WASHINGTON, D. C. — The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed legislation named for a Cincinnati college student who died after being imprisoned in North Korea. The legislation would provide the United States Agency for Global Media with $10 million each year for the next five years to pay for programming designed to counter North Korea’s repressive censorship and surveillance state.
The legislation adopted almost five years after the death of 22-year-old Otto Warmbier, who was arrested after he removed a propaganda poster from a hotel, would require the president to develop and submit to Congress a strategy for combating North Korea’s repressive information environment.
It would also fund the development of new means to protect the privacy and identity of individuals receiving media from the United States Agency for Global Media and other outside media outlets from within North Korea. In addition, it would promote the development of internet freedom tools, technologies, and new approaches, including both digital and non-digital means of information sharing related to North Korea. Finally, it would also fund the repair of antennas that used to broadcast information to North Korea but were damaged in a typhoon years ago and were never fixed.
The legislation was sponsored by Ohio’s U.S. Senators, Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, and Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons.
“Otto Warmbier’s treatment by North Korean authorities that ended in his death remains a powerful reminder of the brutality of Kim Jong Un’s regime,” said a statement from Brown. “This legislation reaffirms our commitment to combating North Korea’s human rights violations against its own people and others who have been held captive, and to countering North Korean surveillance, censorship and repression.”
Portman recalled Warmbier’s story in a Senate floor speech to promote the legislation.
He said Warmbier went to North Korea in 2015 with a tour group for a cultural visit. At the end of what was supposed to be a brief stay, North Korean security officials arrested Warmbier at the airport as he awaited his flight out of the country. Portman said he was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison “on trumped-up charges relating to whether or not he tried to take down a poster that was a political poster.” During 17 months in captivity, Warmbier was mistreated by the North Koreans to the point that he was returned to the United States in a comatose state and died on June 19, 2017, said Portman.
Portman said North Korea’s people aren’t getting accurate information about the world or their country because of censorship.
“This bill has adequate funding to put in place the infrastructure that is now going to be necessary to effectively send through accurate information in North Korea to counter North Korean propaganda for the sake of the people of North Korea,” said Portman. “Together, this chamber can send a bipartisan message to the world that we will not stand for the censorship and the repression of the North Korean regime.