WASHINGTON, D.C.: The US State Department on Tuesday urged North Korea to pardon an American student who was sentenced last year to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a political banner from a hotel. The call for the “immediate release” of Otto Warmbier, who is in his 20s, came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on his way to Japan, South Korea and China to discuss Pyongyang’s drive to field a nuclear-armed missile. “We believe his sentence of 15 years hard labor is unduly harsh for the actions that Mr. Warmbier allegedly took,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “And we urge North Korea to pardon him and grant him special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds.” Warmbier was handed the tough sentence on March 16 last year by North Korea’s supreme court after he admitted stealing a propaganda banner from a staff area of the Pyongyang hotel where he was staying on an organized tour. On Tuesday, the State Department again discouraged US citizens from visiting the communist country, with which it has no diplomatic relations.