Alek Sigley, the Australian student who was detained in North Korea, was deported for spreading anti-government sentiment, the country’s state media has said.
Sigley, 29, was freed from detention Thursday after being held for over a week, telling reporters at Beijing airport that he was doing “great.”
The North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has now stated that Sigley was deported for spying.
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,” the news agency reported.
“Investigation revealed that at the instigation of the NK News and other anti-DPRK media he handed over several times the data and photos he collected and analyzed while combing Pyongyang by making use of the identity card of a foreign student [sic].
“He honestly admitted his spying acts of systemically collecting and offering data about the domestic situation of the DPRK and repeatedly asked for pardon, apologizing for encroachment upon the sovereignty of the DPRK.”
The news agency added that the North Korean government deported Sigley on July 4 in an act of “humanitarian leniency.”
Sigley had been studying at Kim Il Sung University and living in the North Korean capital Pyongyang. His family said in a statement that he first visited North Korea in 2012 and is fluent in Korean and Mandarin.
Alongside his studies, Sigley has written about his experiences in North Korea for the news site NK News. He also founded Tongil Tours, a business specializing in educational visits to North Korea.
Sigley’s parents raised the alarm about his whereabouts last week after he was not heard from for two days, saying that he previously had been in regular contact and such a break was “unusual for him.”
“We’re over the moon that he’s safe and sound and I’m sure in the coming days and weeks there will be more information about what has transpired,” Sigley’s father said following his son’s arrival in Beijing.
Scott Morrisson, Australia’s prime minister, was the first to confirm Sigley’s release while speaking to Parliament, stating, “I’m sure we all could not be more pleased that we not only know where Alek is, but we know he is safe.”
He also thanked Swedish officials for their “invaluable assistance” in securing Sigley’s release, saying it was an example of the effectiveness of inter-government cooperation and behind the scenes diplomacy.
“The Swedish have 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,” Morrisson told the parliament.
Sweden is one of the few Western countries with an embassy in North Korea and often acts as an intermediary for foreign governments and Pyongyang.
Two years ago, American student Otto Warmbier was released after he was taken captive by the North Korean regime during a brief sightseeing tour.
Then 22, Warmbier returned home to Ohio in a vegetative state — blind, deaf, and having sustained severe brain damage from his year in detention. He died on June 19, 2017, days after the Trump administration had secured his return.