Student arrested in North Korea tweets he’s ‘obviously’ not a spy

Posted at 11:47 AM, Jul 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-09 13:47:43-04

The Australian student who was arrested in North Korea has tweeted for the first time since being deported from the country to say that he is “obviously” not a spy.

Alek Sigley, 29, who according to North Korean state media was deported for spreading anti-government sentiment, posted a brief statement in a series of tweets on Tuesday. He was freed from detention on July 4 after being held for over a week.

“The allegation that I am a spy is (pretty obviously) false,” Sigley tweeted. “The only material I gave to NK News [a website he wrote for] was what was published publicly on the blog, and the same goes for other media outlets.”

Sigley had been studying at Kim Il Sung University and living in the North Korean capital Pyongyang. He said the situation makes him feel “very sad,” adding that he will not be able to complete his masters degree and “may never again walk the streets of Pyongyang, a city that holds a very special place in my heart.”

Alongside his studies, Sigley wrote about his experiences in North Korea for the news site NK News and also founded Tongil Tours, a business specializing in educational visits to North Korea.

The 29-year-old’s family previously said in a statement that Sigley first visited North Korea in 2012 and is fluent in Korean and Mandarin.

Sigley said while he has “no plans to visit the country again, at least in the short term,” he hopes to continue his studies in Korean literature regardless. He added that Tongil Tours will be canceling all of its tours “until further notice.”

Sigley deported in an act of ‘leniency’

It was Sigley’s parents who raised the alarm when their son had not been heard from for two days, adding that he previously had been in regular contact and such a break was “unusual for him.”

According to the North Korean Central News Agency, Sigley had been “caught red-handed committing anti-DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) incitement through internet, by a relevant institution of the DPRK on June 25.”

The news agency reported that Sigley had “handed over several times the data and photos he collected and analyzed while combing Pyongyang by making use of the identity card of a foreign student [sic].”

It added that Sigley had “honestly admitted his spying acts … and repeatedly asked for pardon,” and that Sigley was eventually deported in an act of “humanitarian leniency.”

On Twitter Sigley thanked everyone “for their concern and well-wishes,” and to “please rest assured that I am well both mentally and physically.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was the first to confirm Sigley’s release last week, where he thanked Swedish officials for their “invaluable assistance.”

“The Swedish have advised the Australian government that they met with senior officials from the DPRK yesterday and raised the issue of Alek’s disappearance on Australia’s behalf,” Morrison told the parliament.

Sweden is one of the few Western countries with an embassy in North Korea and often acts as an intermediary for foreign governments and Pyongyang.

Two years ago, American student Otto Warmbier was released after he was taken captive by the North Korean regime during a brief sightseeing tour.

Then 22, Warmbier returned home to Ohio in a vegetative state — blind, deaf, and having sustained severe brain damage during his year in detention. He died on June 19, 2017, days after his return.