US student held in North Korea has been released 'in a coma'

Otto Warmbier (22) was sentenced to 15 years hard labour last year

US student held in North Korea has been released 'in a coma'

American student Otto Warmbier speaks to reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. Picture by: Kim Kwang Hyon/AP/Press Association Images

A US student is being flown home from North Korea after being held for 17 months.

The Washington Post reports that Otto Warmbier (22) is in a coma, and is being medically evacuated through a US military base in Japan.

In March 2016, Mr Warmbier - a student at the University of Virginia - was sentenced to 15 years hard labour in North Korea for 'crimes against the state'.

He was initially arrested after being accused of trying to steal a propaganda banner from a hotel in Pyongyang.

In a statement today, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: "At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea. Mr Warmbier is en route to the United States, where he will be reunited with his family.

"The Department of State continues to have discussions with the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] regarding three other US citizens reported detained."

The statement added that the department had no further comment "out of respect for the privacy of Mr Warmbier and his family".

According to The Washington Post, Mr Warmbier's family was told that Otto "contracted botulism soon after his trial and was given a sleeping pill, from which he never woke up".

Otto's father Fred told the paper: “At the moment, we’re just treating this like he’s been in an accident. We get to see our son Otto tonight.”