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The parents of the student who was "tortured" in North Korea have spoken for the first time.

Editor’s note: This post discusses torture, and may be distressing for some readers.

As tensions between the US and North Korea continue to rise, the parents of Otto Warmbier – the 22-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio who died in June, six days after being returned to the States from his imprisonment in North Korea – have given their first television interview since their son’s death.

They have spoken out for one reason only: “We are now seeing North Korea claiming to be a victim and that the world is picking on them and we’re here to tell you: North Korea is not a victim. They are terrorists,” father Fred Warmbier told Fox News.

He and his wife Cindy want North Korea listed as a State Sponsor of Terror – or a country “determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” as described on the USA Government website.

In January 2016, Otto was arrested and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for attempting to steal a propaganda sign from the hotel he’d been staying in while travelling as a tourist to North Korea.

During his trial – which lasted only an hour – the then 21-year-old broke down in tears, telling the North Korean court: “I have made the worst mistake of my life.”

Grainy CCTV footage was used to convict Otto, in which you see a single figure pulling a poster off a wall in the early hours of January 1st, however the poster is left on the floor, leaning against the wall, and Otto isn’t seen again.

To illustrate their point, the grieving parents shared what they were met with when they saw their son for the first time upon his return from North Korea.

By this time, Otto had been imprisioned for 17 months. The North Korean authorities said he’d been in a coma since shortly after his incarceration, due to botulism food poisoning and taking a sleeping pill.

“We thought he was in a coma but you couldn’t call it a coma,” Cindy told Fox News. “When I talked to Ohio Senator Robert Portman on the morning [of Otto’s return]. He said Otto was on a plane coming home and I asked him: ‘is there brain damage?'”

“He said there was severe brain damage, so what we pictured – because we’re optimists – is that Otto would be asleep and in a medically induced coma. And that our doctors here would work with him, and he would come out of it.”

Otto Warmbier. Image via Facebook.
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The reality was nothing like that. No one knows what Otto endured at the hands of the North Korean authorities, but his parents' account of first seeing him on that plane is as alarming as it is disturbing.

"We were in a waiting room with a medical team as the plane arrived. It was determined the medical team would go on the plane before our family," Fred said.

He was waiting to meet his eldest son, along with Cindy and Otto's two siblings Austin and Greta.

"We walked over to the plane - the engines were still humming - we walked up the steps when we got half way up the steps we heard this howling, involuntary, inhuman sound," Fred said.

"We weren't really certain what it was. We climbed to the top of the steps and we looked in and Otto was on the stretcher across in the plane and and he was jerking violently making these inhuman sounds."

"Otto had a shaved head. He had a feeding tube coming out of his nose. He was staring blankly into space jerking violently. He was blind. He was deaf. As we looked at him and tried to comfort him it looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth."

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Fred went onto describe how Otto's fever spiked within days of being home and that his body showed evidence of injury - there was a scar on one of his feet.

The 22-year-old died six days after his return.

"They kidnapped Otto, they tortured him. They purposefully and intentionally injured him," Fred said. "They are not victims. They are terrorists and we're here to tell our story."

President of the United States has responded to Fred and Cindy's interview with a tweet. Calling their appearance on Fox News a "great interview", adding: "Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea."

This is the first time President Trump has labelled North Korea's treatment of Otto as torturous.

"Our image of Otto was of someone just wonderful - beautiful inside and out - and to see how he came home was too much," Cindy said.  "We stayed with him and loved him and looked after him as best as we could."