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North Korea has arrested a University of Virginia student for a “hostile act”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
(Ed Jones/AFP/Getty)
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

North Korea has arrested Otto Frederick Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia who was in the country on a tour, for committing a "hostile act," the nation's news agency announced January 22.

Warmbier is in his third year at the University of Virginia. He was in North Korea with Young Pioneer Tours, a China-based company founded in 2008.

The tour company said in a statement that Warmbier's family had been notified and that it's working with the Swedish Embassy, which represents American interests in North Korea, to try to obtain his release.

Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency said Warmbier was arrested for "perpetrating a hostile act against the DPRK after entering it under the guise of tourist for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity with the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation."

Warmbier was arrested January 2 when he was about to leave the country after a five-day tour, Young Pioneer Tours told Reuters.

Since 2010, Americans have been able to travel to North Korea at any time during the year, but the State Department strongly warns against it.

"Do not assume that joining a group tour or using a tour guide will prevent North Korean authorities from detaining you or arresting you," the travel warning for the country reads in part. "Efforts by private tour operators to prevent or resolve past detentions of U.S. citizens in the DPRK have not succeeded in gaining their release."

But Young Pioneer Tours, founded in 2008 by a British citizen who lives in China, shrugs off those warnings.

"Despite what you may hear, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit," the company says on its website. "Tourism is very welcomed in North Korea, thus tourists are cherished and well taken care of. We have never felt suspicious or threatened at any time. "

CNN reported January 16 that another American, Kim Dong Chul, was being held by North Korea on spying charges, but the State Department refused to confirm those reports.