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07.07.2019 Europe

Australian 'Spy' released from North Korea

By RFI
©Kyodo/via REUTERS
JUL 7, 2019 EUROPE

An Australian student who was released after being held in North Korea had been "spying" in the reclusive country, state media said Saturday. Alek Sigley, 29, disappeared around two weeks ago prompting deep concern about his fate, but was freed and flew to Japan on Thursday.

Official North Korean news agency KCNA said Sigley was “caught red-handed committing anti-DPRK incitement through internet”.

But after questioning “honestly admitted his spying acts… and repeatedly asked for pardon, apologizing for encroachment upon the sovereignty of the DPRK,” he was set free.

It said Sigley "upon request by anti-DPRK news outlets such as NK News, on numerous occasions transferred information that he gathered while travelling to every corner of Pyongyang using his status as an international student, including photographs and analysis," it said, using the initials of North Korea's official name.

"The government of DPRK has exercised humanitarian forbearance and deported him from our grounds on July 4."

On Saturday, Chad O'Connell, NK News' CEO issued a statement “appreciating” Sigley's “prompt release” but adding that “the six articles Alek published represent the full extent of his work with us and the idea that those columns, published transparently under his name between January and April 2019, are “anti-state” in nature is a misrepresentation which we reject.”

Brain damage
Sigley's detention came just days before a G20 summit and a landmark meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump was closely involved in the case of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned during a tour of North Korea in 2016.

Warmbier was accused of attempting to steal a propaganda poster from a corridor in his hotel, for which he was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment with hard labor.

Shortly after his sentencing in March 2016, he suffered a severe neurological injury from an unconfirmed cause and fell into a coma, which lasted over a year.

He died days after arriving back in the United States, aged 22.

Sigley was much more familiar with the country and spoke fluent Korean and he was a graduate student at Pyongyang's Kim Il-Sung University.

He had founded Tongil (“Reunification”) tours, which organizes summer language programs and trips around the country.

He also ran a blog, which usually had a stream of apolitical content about life in one of the world's most secretive nations.

His blog posts focused on everyday Pyongyang -- everything from the city's dining scene to North Korean app reviews -- and he married his Japanese wife there last year.

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