An Australian student who was released after being held in North Korea had been “spying” in the reclusive country, state media said Saturday (Jul 6).
Alek Sigley, 29, disappeared around two weeks ago, prompting deep concern about his fate, but was freed and flew to Japan on Thursday.
“Investigation revealed that at the instigation of the NK News and other anti-DPRK media, he handed over several times the data and photos he collected and analysed while combing Pyongyang by making use of the identity card of a foreign student,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
His latest post, uploaded on Apr 30, describes his dining experiences in Pyongyang, according to the NK News website.
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“The six articles Alek published represent the full extent of his work with us and the idea that those columns, published transparently under his name between January and April 2019, are “anti-state” in nature is a misrepresentation which we reject,” Chad O’Carroll, CEO of NK News publisher the Korea Risk Group, said in a statement.
“Alek Sigley’s well-read columns presented an apolitical and insightful view of life in Pyongyang which we published in a bid to show vignettes of ordinary daily life in the capital to our readers,” O’Carroll added.
Sigley admitted his “spying acts” and repeatedly asked for a pardon, KCNA added.
“The government of DPRK has exercised humanitarian forbearance and deported him from our grounds on Jul 4.”
Sigley left North Korea on Thursday and flew to Beijing, where he was met by Australian officials for the flight to Tokyo to join his Japanese wife.
He declined to comment to a throng of reporters at Haneda Airport, only making a peace sign before being taken away.
In an email statement on Friday, Sigley made no mention of the reason for his detention or what happened to him. “I intend now to return to normal life,” he said, before thanking the Swedish and Australian governments for their help securing his release.
“I just want everyone to know I am OK,” he said. “I’m very happy to be back with my wife, Yuka, and to have spoken with my family in Perth to reassure them I’m well.”
Swedish authorities played a crucial role because Australia has no diplomatic presence in North Korea and relies on other countries to act on its behalf.
The Swedish diplomat who helped secure Sigley’s release, Kent Harstedt, told Reuters by phone he could not divulge details of the detention.
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Sigley, who speaks fluent Korean, had been one of very few westerners studying in Pyongyang.
He organised tours to North Korea, and ran a number of social media sites which usually had a stream of apolitical content about life in one of the world’s most secretive nations.
His blog posts focused on everyday Pyongyang – everything from the city’s dining scene to North Korean app reviews – and he married his Japanese wife there last year.
The Australian government has warned him not to return to North Korea.