Otto Warmbier: North Korea sentences US student to 15 years of hard labour

The particularly harsh sentence comes at a time of elevated tensions between North Korea and the US.

North Korea has sentenced a US student to 15 years of hard labour for 'crimes against the state.'

Otto Warmbier was arrested in January while on a visit to the reclusive country and was charged with trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel.

The 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia was also accused of committing hostile acts. He was arrested as he was trying to leave the country.

Observers say the 15-year sentence appears quite harsh but that it has come at a time of particularly high tensions between North Korea and the US, after Pyongyang defied UN sanctions to carry on with a nuclear test and multiple missile experiments.

After Wambier's arrest in January, the KCNA news agency had said he had tried "to destroy the country's unity."

The agency said the student was arrested for "taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel".

It said the student was manipulated by the US government. Later, the student appeared on state TV, making an apparent confession on those lines.

"The aim of my task was to harm the motivation and work ethic of the Korean people. This was a very foolish aim," he said on air adding that it was the worst mistake of his life.

The student was sentenced to harsh prison term despite the US trying to push for his release through a meeting with Pyongyang's diplomats in New York.

North Korea has been issuing high-decibel threats of attack against the United States following the imposition of fresh UN sanctions against it last month.

Pyongyang's saber-rattling took a turn for the worse following its nuclear test in January, which was followed by rocket launches and missile tests -- all in violation of international sanctions.