An Icelandic woman who was in the same hotel as the American student recently sentenced to hard labour in North Korea has spoken up.
Vísir reports that Ása Steinarsdóttir traveled to North Korea with her boyfriend last November, using Young Pioneer Tours, the same tour company used by Otto Warmbier, a US student recently sentenced to 15 years hard labour in North Korea for trying to steal a poster in a hotel. Ása also reportedly stayed in the same hotel that he did.
“You just think, this could have actually been any of us from our group,” she told reporters about the sentencing. “There was a real mood to try and take some kind of souvenirs here and there. You forget a little that you’re in a dangerous country.”
She described how, at the hotel where she stayed, there were newspapers and magazines lying about, and that it must have been very tempting to take one of them.
“We’re lucky nothing happened to us, because we were also taking photos, quite a lot of them,” she said. “There are certain places and soldiers that you can’t take pictures of, but we did anyway.”
North Korean authorities strictly control not only the movements of tourists to their country, but also their behaviour. Even taking a poster or a newspaper can be taken as a “hostile act” against the state, although Otto’s sentence is considered especially heavy, given past precedent. However, many other foreigners sentenced to several years hard labour for similar offenses have been released soon after. What will become of Otto is still developing.