Australia seeks urgent clarification of reports man detained in North Korea

Alek Sigley. Source Twitter

Alek Sigley. Source Twitter

"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", a department spokesperson told Newsweek.

Australian officials have said little about the nature of his disappearance in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

He has been living in North Korea while studying at the Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, one of the few foreigners doing so.

Sigley was reported missing by friends, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Australia's foreign ministry has said it is "urgently seeking clarification" on reports that Sigley had been detained.

The vast majority of foreign students in North Korea come from neighboring China, where education is significantly more expensive.

He also runs Tongil Tours, a company which regularly brings in groups of tourists into North Korea for educational and cultural exchanges. His friend Crispin Rovere described him as "the nicest guy on Earth" and said that he was "only ever interested in sharing North Korea's culture with the world and improving people-to-people connections".

He was careful to avoid political commentary on his social media platforms, instead focusing on what he called North Korea's modernisation, its food and its architecture.

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Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said limited contact with North Korea meant securing details about the missing man's whereabouts was hard.

North Korea continues to deny engaging in torture in one of the most infamous cases of Westerners detained in the country. "We wouldn't be able to bear the moral and legal responsibility of bringing people to North Korea if it was unsafe".

The death of American student Otto Warmbier in 2017 after he was detained in North Korea for 17 months sparked a long period of tension between Washington and Pyongyang, with the United States and North Korea even trading threats of war.

Sigley posted on social media pictures of his marriage to his Japanese wife Yuka in Pyongyang in May 2018.

He describes himself as "the only Australian living in North Korea" in a firsthand account about his life, published by The Guardian in March.

"I'm free to wander around the city, without anyone accompanying me", he wrote. "Interaction with locals can be limited at times, but I can shop and dine nearly anywhere I want", he wrote.

In 2014, North Korea said it deported Short after he apologized for anti-state religious acts and requested forgiveness.

"But at the end of the day, the regime hasn't changed", he said.

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