Aussie student Alex Sigley released from North Korea breaks silence

Canberra: An Australian student released by North Korea broke his silence on Friday, expressing gratitude for the support he has received and saying he was looking to go back to normal life.

Alek Sigley was released by the North Korean authorities on Thursday after being held for more than a week, reports Efe news.

“I want everyone to know I am OK, and to thank them for their concern for my wellbeing and their support for my family over the past week,” Sigley told the media.

“I’m very happy to be back with my wife, Yuka, and to have spoken with my family in Perth (Australia) to reassure them I’m well,” he added.

In the brief statement released to the media by a representative of Sigley, the Australian student did not provide details of his detention, and said he would not be making any further comments on the subject.

Sigley, currently in Tokyo with his wife Yuka Morinaga, thanked the people involved in securing his release and said he now sought to “return to normal life”.

The 29-year-old student was released following mediation by the Swedish authorities. The circumstances around why the young Australian was detained remain unclear.

Sigley founded travel company Tongil Tours and has been a Master’s student in Korean literature at the Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang since last April.

His family became concerned on June 27 after they were unable to contact him on WhatsApp, as was customary, and reported him missing, leading to diplomatic efforts by Australian government, which caught the attention of the media.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Friday recommended Sigley against returning to North Korea.

“My advice would be pretty clear, I would stay in Japan. I would go back to South Korea, I would come back to Australia,” Dutton told the media.

“All of those would have to be better options before he returns to North Korea … I don’t think he will put himself back in that situation… It could have ended up very differently,” said Dutton.

Sigley’s detention is the first known arrest of a foreigner in North Korea since that of American student Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster during his visit to Pyongyang in December 2015.

A year and a half later, Warmbier was repatriated to the US while in a coma and died six days later on June 19, 2017.