Portman, Brown, Coons Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Honor Otto Warmbier and Counter North Korea’s Repressive Censorship and Surveillance State

June 17, 2021 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced the Otto Warmbier North Korea Censorship and Surveillance Act, bipartisan legislation that provides $10 million annually for the next five years to counter North Korea’s repressive censorship and surveillance state, while also encouraging sanctions on those that enable this repressive information environment both in and outside of North Korea.

The bill is named after Otto Warmbier, a Cincinnati, Ohio, native who was wrongfully imprisoned by the brutal North Korean regime and died as a result of the injuries he sustained while in custody. This Saturday, June 19th, is the fourth anniversary of Otto’s passing.

“Otto Warmbier was the best of America, the Midwest, and Cincinnati,” said Portman. “He died an unjust death and this legislation will helps ensure that his memory lives on and that the brutal regime responsible for his death is held accountable for this and its myriad of other human rights abuses.”

“As we remember Otto, we reaffirm our commitment to combating North Korea’s human rights violations against its own people and others that have been held captive over the years. We will continue to pressure North Korea to stop its draconian surveillance and censorship policies, and by doing so honor Otto’s memory” said Brown.

“We remember and celebrate the life of Otto Warmbier, who was just twenty-two years old when his life was taken,” said Coons. “Otto lived those years to the fullest, and I am pleased to work with Senators Portman and Brown in commemorating his life through this legislation, which will serve to honor his memory.”

“We are incredibly grateful for this meaningful legislation proposed by Senators Portman, Brown, and Coons. This will make a difference and improve the lives of the North Korean people. Otto would be proud,” said Fred and Cindy Warmbier.

The flow of information in North Korea is tightly controlled – of the 180 countries ranked, it consistently ranks last or near-last in the World Press Freedom Index. In North Korea, listening to foreign radio or television broadcasts is a severely punished crime, access to the internet is not available for regular citizens, and cell phones are not only blocked from making international calls, but their usage is also heavily monitored by the North Korean security services.

The bill takes steps to ensure that the people of North Korea can safely create, access, and share digital and non-digital news without fear of repressive censorship, surveillance, or penalties under law, while recommitting the United States to developing novel means of communication and information sharing. It also encourages the president to use all available sanctions authorities to combat censorship and surveillance in North Korea. Additionally, it allows for the funds in this legislation to bolster existing programming from the U.S. Agency for Global Media – an independent agency designed to ‘inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy’ – by restoring the broadcasting capacity of damaged antennas by Typhoon Yutu in 2018.

Specifically, the Otto Warmbier North Korea Censorship and Surveillance Act directs:

  • No later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the president must develop and submit to Congress a strategy on combating North Korea’s repressive information environment;
  • That the president may impose sanctions with respect to each person identified in the Act, via the blocking of their property in the U.S. or subject to U.S. jurisdiction and via ineligibility for visas, admission, or parole; and
  • The United States Agency for Global Media receive $10 million for each of fiscal years 2022 through 2026 to provide increased broadcasting and grants for the following purposes:
    • To promote the development of internet freedom tools, technologies, and new approaches, including both digital and non-digital means of information sharing related to North Korea.
    • To explore public-private partnerships to counter North Korea’s repressive censorship and surveillance state.
    • To develop new means to protect the privacy and identity of individuals receiving media from the United States Agency for Global Media and other outside media outlets from within North Korea.
    • To bolster existing programming from the United States Agency for Global Media by restoring the broadcasting capacity of damaged antennas caused by Typhoon Yutu in 2018.