The director of the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital, which treated American student Otto Warmbier, who died last year after being detained for months in the country, has dismissed new allegations that his death resulted from torture.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Saturday quoted the unnamed hospital director as saying the claims were a “total distortion of the truth,” and that the 22-year-old Warmbier, who was repatriated to the United States in a coma after months of silence about his fate following a show trial in Pyongyang in March 2016, had been treated humanely.
“The American doctors who came to the DPRK to help Warmbier’s repatriation acknowledged that his health indicators were all normal and submitted a letter of assurance to our hospital that they shared the diagnostic result of the doctors of our hospital. That document is still in our hands,” the hospital director was quoted as saying.
“Now the question is: what is the ulterior motive of those American doctors trying to make a different story at this point in time with regard to the cause of Warmbier’s death,” the director said, adding that medical assessments “should not be influenced by any selfish purpose or political interest.”
The KCNA dispatch came hours after the Voice of America’s Korean service reported on a lawsuit filed by Warmbier’s parents alleging that their son had been tortured while in detention.
The VOA quoted court papers filed in support of the suit by Warmbier’s former dentists as saying that his teeth had been “moved backwards” — something that “would most typically be caused by some sort of impact” — and that there was also evidence “indicating a loss of bone.”
It quoted another declaration from Daniel Kanter, a neurologist who was the lead physician for Warmbier on his return to his hometown of Cincinnati, as saying that Warmbier had suffered brain damage after a cessation of blood flow to the brain for five to 20 minutes.
“Because the injury was so extensive, it was unlikely that Mr. Warmbier was with medical personnel who were willing and able to intervene to resuscitate him when the injury occurred,” Kanter was quoted as saying in the declaration.
North Korean officials had claimed that Warmbier had contracted botulism and fell into a coma after taking a sleeping pill in April 2016. U.S. doctors said Warmbier had suffered extensive loss of brain tissue, consistent with a cardiopulmonary event that caused the brain to be deprived of oxygen. Physicians said there was no evidence of torture or physical abuse.
U.S. President Donald Trump charged last year that Warmbier was tortured, though he held a landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in July and is in the process of planning a second meeting.
Rights have appeared to take a back seat to the North Korean nuclear issue, something the United Nations’ independent investigator on human rights in the country acknowledged last week.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on North Korea, said that despite the ongoing detente between Pyongyang and Washington, the North’s rights record continued to remain abysmal.
The comments came just weeks before the expected passage of a Japan-led resolution condemning the rights situation there.
Pyongyang, which has been subject to numerous U.N. reports and 13-straight annual resolutions blasting it’s horrendous rights record, has lambasted any attempts by the global body to take it to task over the issue. Japan, together with the EU, are expected to present the resolution next month.
Among its most egregious violations, rights group Amnesty International said in a report this year that the North is believed to hold up to 120,000 people in the four known political prison camps, where they are subjected to forced labor as well as torture and other ill-treatment. Some of the violations have amounted to crimes against humanity, it said.