SEOUL (NYTIMES) - North Korea has said that Mr Alek Sigley, the Australian student whom it deported this past week, had been a spy who admitted to systematically collecting information about the isolated country, with a state news agency reporting that he had been "caught red-handed".
Mr Sigley, 29, a graduate student in Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, had been detained in North Korea, then freed last Thursday (July 4) and deported on the same day. Until now, neither Mr Sigley nor the North's government had publicly explained why he had been held.
On Saturday, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), using the initials for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, said Mr Sigley was caught last Tuesday while "committing anti-DPRK incitement through the Internet".
The news agency said: "He honestly admitted his spying acts of systematically collecting and offering data about the domestic situation of the DPRK and repeatedly asked for pardon, apologising for encroachment upon the sovereignty of the DPRK."
North Korea expelled him with "humanitarian leniency", KCNA said.
Mr Sigley could not be reached for comment. But after his release, he said as he emerged at Beijing's international airport last Thursday: "I'm OK, I'm good."
He declined then to address a reporter's question about why he had been detained.
While studying in Pyongyang, he had contributed occasional columns about his life in the North to outside news media, including NK News, which is based in Seoul, the South Korean capital, and specialises in news about North Korea.
KCNA said Mr Sigley had acted at the instigation of NK News and other "anti-DPRK" news outlets, providing them several times with information and photos he had collected in Pyongyang by making use of his foreign student card.
Mr Chad O'Carroll, head of NK News, said in response to the North Korean claim: "Alek Sigley's well-read columns presented an apolitical and insightful view of life in Pyongyang, which we published in a bid to show vignettes of ordinary daily life in the capital to our readers."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Mr Sigley have thanked Swedish diplomats for working on Australia's behalf to help free him. Australia does not have an embassy in Pyongyang and relies on the Swedish Embassy there to protect its citizens in the North.