North Korea has sentenced an American student to 15 years' hard labour for crimes against the state after he tearfully admitted that he tried to steal a propaganda banner from a hotel.

Otto Warmbier was arrested as he attempted to leave the country in January and later made a televised "confession" saying that he had taken the sign to bring back a "trophy".

North Korean state news agency KCNA said the 21-year-old's offence was "pursuant to the US government's hostile policy" and that he was convicted under an article of the criminal code dealing with subversion.

The University of Virginia student who had visited the isolated state as a tourist, had said during his confession that he had tried to steal the banner for an acquaintance who wanted to hang it in her church.


Foreigners are often detained in North Korea, where they are used by Pyongyang to exert diplomatic pressure.

Imprisoning US nationals has also helped secure high-profile visits for the regime, with former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton negotiating releases.

North Korea has been ratcheting up tensions following its nuclear test in January, which was followed by a rocket launch last month. South Korea and the US are currently carrying out joint-military manoeuvres.

The lengthy term handed to Mr Warmbier, who is from Wyoming, Ohio, was likely a measure of the growing antagonism from Pyongyang towards its adversaries.

Tough sanctions were imposed on North Korea earlier this month after diplomatic efforts by the US.

However, the DPRK has often imposed stiff sentences before releasing prisoners, and many of those who have confessed later say they were forced to do so.

Last year, a South Korean-Canadian pastor was arrested in the North and handed a life sentence for subversion. Another two Americans are currently detained in the country.