Australia seeks help to find student missing in N. Korea

The family of Mr Alek Sigley said they had not heard from the university student in Pyongyang since Tuesday.
The family of Mr Alek Sigley said they had not heard from the university student in Pyongyang since Tuesday.

SYDNEY • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday that Canberra has yet to establish the whereabouts of an Australian man missing in North Korea for several days.

The family of Mr Alek Sigley on Thursday said they had not heard from the 29-year-old university student in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, since Tuesday.

Mr Sigley, who also runs a small tour company specialising in educational trips to North Korea, was an active social media user before abruptly ceasing all communication on Tuesday.

"Our key focus is to ascertain precisely where Alek Sigley is and in what circumstances," Mr Morrison said in the Japanese city of Osaka, where he is attending the Group of 20 summit of world leaders. "It's very concerning, I'm very concerned," he said.

Mr Sigley's family said in a statement it was unusual not to have any digital contact from him.

Australia has no diplomatic presence in North Korea and relies on third-party countries such as Sweden to act on its behalf.

Australia's foreign affairs department said it has received a report that a citizen had been detained in North Korea.

 
 

Mr Sigley, from the Western Australian city of Perth, has been studying for a postgraduate degree in modern Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University, according to his Twitter page, making him one of a handful of Western students there.

The treatment of foreign citizens, most usually from the United States, by the secretive North has long been a contentious issue. Some have been held as prisoners for years. The death of American student Otto Warmbier in 2017 after he was detained in North Korea for 17 months sparked a long period of tension between Washington and Pyongyang, with the US and North Korea even trading threats of war.

Mr Warmbier was detained in 2016 and sentenced to 15 years of forced labour for trying to steal a propaganda poster at his hotel. He was returned to the US in a coma and died soon after.

Mr Sigley has been an unusually active social media user for someone living in North Korea and regularly updates his social media accounts with photos and blog posts about seemingly benign subjects such as food and fashion.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2019, with the headline 'Australia seeks help to find student missing in N. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe