Fred Warmbier: North Korea ‘not really participating’ in Winter Olympics

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (NBC News) — The father of Ohio college student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after being released from prison in North Korea last year, has said the North is “not really participating” in the Winter Olympics.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt on the sidelines of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Warmbier said he did not find it difficult seeing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister enjoying the moment at Friday’s Opening Ceremony.

“We have to put this in context in the spirit of the Olympics and why we’re here. And so when you put it that way they’re not really participating in the Olympics,” said Warmbier, who is the personal guest of Vice President Mike Pence at the Games.

“Their athletes are not exchanging ideas with other athletes in the Olympic Village or really participating, so that’s a political statement,” he added.

Warmbier added that his presence was in no way political. “This is not political for me. Their treatment of Otto is their standard, that’s the way they do business,” he said.

Otto, a student at the University of Virginia, was detained in Pyongyang in January 2016 while on a tourist trip to North Korea. The 22-year-old was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor after being accused of trying to steal a propaganda banner, but he was released 17 months later with extensive brain damage. He died a week later at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

You can see the full interview tonight on NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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