The father of a US university student repatriated in a coma this week after being held in North Korea for 17 months says his son was “brutalised and terrorised” in custody.
Fred Warmbier’s claims come as US doctors say 22-year-old Otto Warmbier has extensive brain trauma.
Otto Warmbier, from Ohio, has been in a coma since March 2016, shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in North Korea.
He was arrested for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan, North Korean media reported. He was visiting the reclusive state with a tour group.
North Korean officials reportedly told Mr Warmbier’s family on his release on Wednesday that he has been unconscious since contracting botulism and being treated with a sleeping pill.
Doctors say Mr Warmbier had no trace of botulism in his system, but has a severe brain injury and is in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness”.
Mr Warmbier is stable but “shows no sign of understanding language, responding to verbal commands or awareness of his surrounding,” Dr Daniel Kanter, medical director of the neuroscience intensive care unit at the University of Cincinnati, said on Thursday.
“He has not spoken,” Dr Kanter told a media conference. “He has not engaged in any purposeful movements or behaviours” but was breathing on his own.
On Thursday, North Korea said that it had released Mr Warmbier “on humanitarian grounds”.
Fred Warmbier earlier told a news conference his family did not believe North Korea’s story that his son had fallen into a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill.
Dr Kanter said that Warmbier had suffered “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of the brain” but declined to discuss Mr Warmbier’s prognosis.
On Thursday, the State Department said that US diplomat Joseph Yun, who negotiated Mr Warmbier’s release, had also met with three other US citizens being held in North Korea.
Tensions between the United States and North Korea have been heightened by North Korean missile launches and two nuclear bomb tests.
Pyongyang has vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
Fred Warmbier said he was stunned when told of his son’s condition a week ago.
“I don’t know what being in shock is, but I’m pretty sure I was,” he said.
“There is no excuse for any civilised nation to have kept his condition secret and denied him top-notch medical care for so long,” he said.
He said he and his wife Cindy had not left their son’s side since his return to the US and he had spoken with President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
– With AAP