Australia probing alleged detention of student in North Korea

Seoul: Australia is looking into the apparent detention of an Australian national in North Korea, whose family is currently receiving consular assistance, the Australian embassy in Seoul told Efe news on Thursday.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance, in accordance with the Consular Services Charter, to the family of an Australian man who has been reported as being detained in North Korea,” the embassy said in a statement.

“The Department is urgently seeking clarification. Owing to our privacy obligations we will not provide further comment,” it added, without mentioning the identity of the person or the circumstances of the apparent detention.

But according to South Korea’s Channel A, the person detained is thought to be Alek Sigley, a student residing in Pyongyang, where he is pursuing a post-graduate degree in Korean literature at the Kim Il-sung University.

Channel A, citing an anonymous source, on Thursday reported that Sigley, a 29-year-old from Perth, might have been arrested for unspecified reasons.

Sigley, with whom Efe news was in contact less than a week ago through social media, has not responded to any of the messages sent since the news emerged.

Tongil tours, the travel agency that he founded and runs from Pyongyang, has also failed to reply to any of the messages sent by Efe.

Sigley is an avid user of Twitter, where he has detailed his life as a student in Pyongyang since the end of 2018.

His last tweet is dated June 24 and is about the famous Ryugyong hotel, a gigantic unfinished hotel whose construction began in the North Korean capital in the late 1980s and of which Sigley took a couple of photos from the outside.

This would be the first known detention of a foreigner in North Korea since that of American student Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster while visiting Pyongyang in December 2015.

A year-and-a-half later, Warmbier was repatriated to the US in a comatose state, where he died six days later, on June 19, 2017.