American student Otto Warmbier has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor by the North Korean Supreme Court for allegedly working against state interests by attempting to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel lobby.
Warmbier is a University of Virginia student majoring in economics and commerce, was made to confess his "crimes" on North Korean state television about three weeks ago.
The court convicted him of "hostile acts" towards state, and gave him 15 years in prison with hard labor.
The White House has urged North Korea to release Warmbier on humanitarian grounds, and grant him special amnesty.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the misdemeanor charges against him would not lead to "arrest or imprisonment in the United States or in just about any other country in the world."
"It is increasingly clear that the North Korean government seeks to use these U.S. citizens as pawns to pursue a political agenda," he added.
Ohio Governor John Kasich spoke with his parents in Cincinnati and has at many previous occasions asked North Korea to release Warmbier. He said on his website that the college student's arrest "was completely unjustified and the sentence North Korea imposed on him is an affront to concepts of justice."
Warmbier was detained on January 2 as he was about to leave the country after a five-day tour organized by China-based travel company Young Pioneer Tours.
On February 29, he was made to read his 'confession' of subverting government interests, at a news conference arranged by North Korea.
He allegedly tried to steal a propaganda slogan hanging on the wall of a "staff-only" lobby in the early hours of morning before his scheduled departure out of the country, but since the hanging was too heavy, he left it there and went back to his room.
Warmbier was made to say publicly that he did it as a part of a conspiracy involving a church and a secretive Z society, and was being paid in form of a $10,000 used car.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said that, "North Korea's sentencing of Otto Warmbier to 15 years' hard labor for a college-style prank is outrageous and shocking. Pyongyang should recognize this student's self-admitted mistake as a misdemeanor offense that it would be in most countries, release him on humanitarian grounds and send him home."
In the past two years, North Korea has released three American detainees. At present, a Korean-Canadian Christian pastor, Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim, is serving a sentence of life-imprisonment with hard labor on charges of spying against the government.
Bill Richardson, Former Governor of New Mexico, met with two North Korean diplomats from the United Nations to call on the country to release Warmbier, the New York Times reported.
The US interests in North Korea are represented by Sweden, as it has no embassy in the country.