The United States issued a ban on Wednesday prohibiting its citizens traveling to North Korea, a move triggered by the death of a US student Otto Warmbier, sentenced last year to 15 years’ hard labor during a tourist visit.
Warmbier, 22, a student at the University of Virginia, died in June after being held by Pyongyang for more than a year on charges of stealing a propaganda poster from a North Korean hotel.
He had been sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour in the North, but was sent home in a mysterious coma in June and died soon afterwards.
The ban, which comes into effect September 1, was introduced after officials said the “serious risk” of arrest by Pyongyang officials during tourist travel presented an “imminent danger to the physical safety” of its citizens.
The State Department issued a notice in the Federal Register on Wednesday declaring U.S. passports invalid for travel to, in or through North Korea. The restriction takes effect in 30 days, and applies for one year unless extended or revoked by the secretary of state.
“All United States passports are declared invalid for travel to, in, or through the DPRK unless specially validated for such travel,” read the restriction in the US government’s Federal Register, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name.
North Korea has said through its state media that Warmbier’s death was “a mystery” and dismissed accusations that he had died as a result of torture and beating in captivity.
US President Donald Trump slammed Warmbier’s detention and eventual death as “a total disgrace,” pledging to “prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency”.
The new ban will remain in effect for one year, unless it is revoked sooner by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Exemptions and special validations will be allowed in specific cases for “Professional reporters or journalists, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross or the American Red Cross traveling on official missions, those traveling to North Korea for “compelling humanitarian considerations” and those whose requests are “in the national interest” the State Department said.
North Korea is currently holding two Korean-American academics and a missionary, a Canadian pastor and three South Korean nationals who were doing missionary work. Japan says North Korea has also detained at least several dozen of its nationals.