North Korea releases Australian student from detention

ASSOCIATED PRESS
CANBERRA, Australia
Published 04.07.2019 10:17
Australian student Alek Sigley smiles as he arrives at the airport in Beijing on Thursday, July 4, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)
Australian student Alek Sigley smiles as he arrives at the airport in Beijing on Thursday, July 4, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)

An Australian student released after a week in detention in North Korea described his condition to reporters Thursday in Beijing as "very good" without saying what happened.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced to Parliament that Alek Sigley, 29, had been released hours earlier following intervention from Swedish diplomats on Wednesday and had been taken to the Australian Embassy in Beijing.

Sigley looked relaxed when he arrived at Beijing airport. He did not respond to reporters' questions about what had happened in Pyongyang.

"I'm OK, I'm OK, I'm good. I'm very good," Sigley said.

His father, Gary Sigley, said his son would soon be reunited with his Japanese wife Yuka Morinaga in Tokyo.

"He's fine. He's in very good spirits. He's been treated well," the father told reporters in his hometown of Perth.

Sigley's friend and fellow student of North Korea, University of Technology Sydney academic Bronwyn Dalton, said she had recently spoken Sigley's wife, who was thrilled by the news.

"We were jumping up and down and we love Sweden," Dalton told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"He's a fine, young, emerging Asian scholar, he is very applied to his studies. I really doubted whether he did actually anything wrong by the regime," Dalton said.

Swedish diplomats had raised concerns about Sigley with North Korean authorities in Pyongyang where Australia does not have an embassy.

"Alek is safe and well. Swedish authorities 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 said, using the official acronym for North Korea.

Morrison thanked Swedish authorities for "their invaluable assistance in securing Alek's prompt release."

"This outcome demonstrates the value of discrete behind-the-scenes work of officials in resolving complex and sensitive consular cases in close partnership with other governments," Morrison said.

The Pyongyang university student and tour guide had been out of contact with family and friends in Japan and Australia since Tuesday last week.

He had been active in social media about his experiences in North Korea and had boasted about the extraordinary freedom he had been allowed as one of the few foreign students living in Pyongyang.

Morrison's announcement was the first confirmation that he had been detained.

Morrison said he discussed Sigley's disappearance with other world leaders attending the Group of 20 summit last week and accepted offers to find out what happened to him. Morrison had dined with President Donald Trump in Osaka but declined to say with whom he had discussed Sigley's disappearance.

North Korea has been accused in the past of detaining Westerners and using the detainees as political pawns to gain concessions. Australia advises people to reconsider their need to travel to North Korea and warns that foreigners have been subject to arbitrary arrests and long detentions.

Leonid Petrov, an Australian National University expert on North Korea and friend of Sigley, last week speculated that Sigley had been "deliberately cut off from means of communications" temporarily because Trump was in the region.

Trump had his third meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday and became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea when he crossed the demarcation line at the Demilitarized Zone. They held a 50-minute meeting inside a building on the south side of the border and agreed to resume nuclear negotiations but didn't disclose details.

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