Otto Warmbier was released from North Korea in a coma and died.

The story of the American arrested in Pyongyang and sentenced to 15 years for allegedly trying to take a propaganda poster back home captivated the American media and was the source of a fair share of hot takes. As usual, it was quickly turned into a pointless political football to be tossed around by the cultural right and the social justice left. Some idiots on the left (a Huffington Post unpaid blogger, Salon, Larry Wilmore — no one of too much influence) took a sick kind of schadenfreudic pleasure in seeing a white man arrested and sentenced to a harsh prison term. Conservatives took these silly statements by a few liberal bloggers and thus used them as examples of the “moral perversion” of the “social justice left” (Noah Rothman of Commentary, Nick Gillespie of Reason).

It’s a distraction from the issue here. North Korea arrested someone for a minor offense and sentence him for one and a half decades–and possibly mistreated him (we can’t speculate too much without facts). For race-obsessed morons who have no sympathy for white people, consider this: The vast majority of North Koreans are Korean people. The same government that uses Americans–of all races and genders (including journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling and professor Kim Sang-duk) as bargaining chips tortures and kills Koreans. An estimated 200,000 Koreans are in concentration camps as a result of political “crimes.”

The same government that will throw an American in jail for 15 years for stealing a propaganda sign forces local people to have portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on every wall. In the same place that an American may have contracted botulism, hundreds of thousands, maybe over a million, have starved to death over the years.

“If dust is found in those portraits, you’re subject to pay a fine – the thicker the dust is the more you have to pay,” Je says.

In North Korea, you are not allowed to use an old newspaper for anything other than reading if a photograph of Kim Jong-il appears in it. You must collect those editions separately and return them; anyone who uses the newspaper as scrap or to repaper something, or rolls it up to use when making a cigarette, etc. is punished.

It’s also true that Warmbier made a poor decision in visiting North Korea and in trying to take a sign (if that’s what he did). But that doesn’t absolve the North Korean government. The Americans and Europeans who visit North Korea are funding the government’s abuse of 25 million Koreans along with its nuclear program, while getting no glimpse of what life is like for most Koreans living in North Korea. It also causes the government to expend resources to get them back. That’s why Congress should move forward with a bill to ban Americans from traveling to North Korea.

North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks at the bottom of the barrel or bottom few of every kind of freedom and human rights imaginable. No one can claim to be concerned about human rights and justice for the poor and marginalized if they laugh about and justify the tyranny of North Korea’s government.

Feature photo of drawings created by former North Korean political prisoner Jeong Kwang-il, featured in UN report.


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