Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

Winston Aldworth: Pyongyang express

7 comments
American student Otto Warmbier. Photo / AP
American student Otto Warmbier. Photo / AP

It's been 37 years since the movie Midnight Express painted a grim picture for travellers pondering the thrill of breaking local laws. Turns out that when we visit a foreign land, it's their laws that hang over us; their ideas of what constitutes a crime and their ideas of what might be a reasonable punishment.

If only someone had pointed this out to Otto Warmbier. The 21-year-old American student was last week sentenced to 15 years hard labour for what seems - from where we sit in our comfortable western, liberal democracy - a pretty minor offence.

Trouble is, he was in North Korea at the time.

Warmbier was found guilty of committing "hostile acts" against the state after being caught trying to steal a propaganda banner that hung on the wall of the Yanggakdo International Hotel, in Pyongyang, where he was staying.

It would be a kind of dumb thing to do anywhere (would you steal a US flag from a hotel wall in Washington DC?), but mega-dumb in Pyongyang.

Video

Warmbier is unlikely to experience the full horror of North Korea's gulag system - hellish forced-labour camps in which, according to a 2014 UN special commission report, thousands of people are worked to death each year. The regime won't want to draw attention to those.

His stay as a guest of the North Korean penal system won't be pleasant, but he's likely to return home sometime in the next couple of years.

Chastened by the heavy consequences of his youthful indiscretion, he'll have learnt a lesson. It's one all young travellers should consider.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 12 Dec 2016 03:05:56 Processing Time: 976ms