An Australian student detained for more than a week before being freed in North Korea on Thursday was spying for news outlets, the country’s state media said Saturday.
Alex Sigley, 29, was released in North Korea Thursday after Swedish embassy officials met the North Korean government in Pyongyang. Australia doesn’t have a diplomatic presence in North Korea. Sigley arrived in China that same day, with video footage of his arrival at Bejing Airport, showing him smiling and telling reporters he was feeling “great.” He flew from Bejing to Japan, where his wife lives.
Sigley had been studying for a master’s degree in Korean literature at Kim II Sung University and running a tour company, Tongil Tours, while living in Pyongyang. He was reported missing after his family lost contact with him after June 25 and his normally active social media accounts went silent.
He had kept a blog for his tour company and contributed articles about life in North Korea to outlets including The Guardian and NK News, which first reported his release.
He was “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,” North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA said
Sigley had “on numerous occasions transferred information, including photographs and analysis, that he gathered while traveling to every corner of Pyongyang using his status as an international student,” KCNA said.
He had done this “upon request by anti-DPRK [North Korea] news outlets such as NK News,” KCNA added. The government decided to deport him on humanitarian grounds after he “honestly admitted that he had been spying … and repeatedly asked for forgiveness for infringing our sovereignty.”
NK News has denied Pyongyng’s claims that he was a spy for them and that his articles were “anti-state in nature.”
His columns only “presented an apolitical view of life in Pyongyang,” NK News said, adding that it had only published six articles from Sigley, which showed “vignettes of ordinary life in the capital.”
Still, NK News thanked the DPRK for its prompt “release” of Sigley “on humanitarian grounds.”
Among the published works, was an essay titled “From Perth to Pyongyang: my life as an Aussie student at Kim II Sung University,” along with articles about North Korea fashion, apps and restaurants.