There is no doubt that North Korea is a brutal communist dictatorship. The stories of atrocities are legendary. In a UN report concerning the North Korean legal system, the report highlighted a case in which a cleaning woman was sent to a concentration camp for accidently breaking a picture of Dear Leader. In another episode, a man was sent to prison for using a newspaper to clean up a drink spill. It seems the newspaper used to clean the spill had an image of Dear Leader. And this sort of heresy cannot go unpunished in North Korea.
Based on the legal history of North Korea, it is obvious Otto was not persecuted for being an American. Any North Korean citizen would have received the same fate for stealing a propaganda poster.
However, most Americans who visit North Korea understand the rules and are careful not to run into legal problems. It is estimated that approximately 1,000 American citizens visit North Korea every year. And in the past ten years, only 16 Americans have been detained out of the approximately 10,000 who have visited - less than 1%. Not bad odds.
Travel to such oppressive countries does have some strategic upsides. A prison state runs into long term problems when it allows its citizens have contacts with outsiders. Yes, even when the tourists are carefully monitored, ideas slowly seep out to the populace. Ideas that maybe, just maybe, Americans are not all the evil devils as they have been taught since childhood.
I am a firm supporter of strong borders. But I am also an advocate of tourism and interacting with people of other cultures. While visiting North Korea has some risk, the benefits are worth it.