The Australian student who was detained for a week in North Korea has broken his silence for the first time to deny he was a spy and to express his regret at not being able to return to the reclusive regime.
Alek Sigley, 29, was released from detention in Pyongyang last week and immediately evacuated to his home in Japan via China. His sudden disappearance in late June had sparked a brief diplomatic crisis and Sweden stepped in to help negotiate his release.
Mr Sigley, who was studying at Kim Il Sung university and running Tongil Tours, a travel agency that arranged cultural exchanges to North Korea, took to Twitter on Wednesday evening to thank well-wishers and assure them that “I am well both mentally and physically.”
The student had been living in North Korea since 2018 and had frequently shared details about daily life in Pyongyang through his social media accounts and op-eds or articles in Western media outlets, including NK News and Guardian Australia.
1. The allegation that I am a spy is (pretty obviously) false. The only material I gave to NK News was what was published publicly on the blog, and the same goes for other media outlets. In this respect, I stand by the NK News statement: https://t.co/AQmpGs2qbW
— Alek Sigley (@AlekSigley) July 9, 2019
He avoided politics and frequently challenged negative perceptions about North Korea, attempting to humanise the isolated country with his unique insights, often about food.
However, after his release Pyongyang accused Mr Sigley of espionage by providing photos and other materials to news organisations holding critical views of the North. State media said he admitted to spying and pleaded for forgiveness.
Mr Sigley rebutted that claim in his Twitter statement. “The allegation that I am a spy is (pretty obviously) false. The only material I gave to NK News was what was published publicly on the blog, and the same goes for other media outlets,” he said.
Tongil Tours would be cancelling its business until further notice and his master’s degree in contemporary North Korean literature would be suspended , he confirmed, adding that “the whole situation makes me very sad.”
Mr Sigley, who married his Japanese wife in Pyongyang last year, added: “I may never again walk the streets of Pyongyang, a city that holds a very special place in my heart. I may never again see my teachers and my partners in the travel industry, whom I’ve come to consider close friends. But that’s life.”