“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance, in accordance with the consular services charter, to the family of an Australian man who has been reported as being detained in North Korea,” Australia’s Foreign Ministry said.
Australia does not have a diplomatic mission of its own in North Korea, but consular assistance can be provided to the country’s nationals by the Swedish Embassy on a limited basis.
Sigley’s family said Thursday in a statement that there was no confirmation he has been detained.
“The situation is that he has not been in digital contact with friends and family since Tuesday morning which is unusual for him,” his family said in the statement. “Alek’s family hope to reestablish contact with him soon.”
The statement described Sigley as “an Australian-born Asian scholar and traveler who has visited, studied and lived in several countries in Asia.” It said he speaks Mandarin and Korean fluently, along with some Japanese.
Sigley has been pursuing a master's degree in Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University, North Korea’s most prestigious institution of higher education. He is one of a small body of international students at the university and described himself as “the only Australian living in North Korea” in a piece he wrote in March for Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
Sigley is also a founder of Tongil Tours, a company that operates group tours into North Korea, which is officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
“No one works harder than @AlekSigley to show the human side of #NorthKorea. They should give him a medal,” Aidan Foster-Carter, a Britain-based longtime Korea watcher, said in a tweet. “Instead, down comes the heavy hand of the #DPRK state, to remind us that actually no this is NOT in any sense a normal country.”
Other foreigners detained by North Korean authorities have included Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died in 2017 after a 17-month detention. He had been sentenced to 15 years in prison and hard labor for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster during his package tour to Pyongyang.
Reports on Sigley’s disappearance followed a Japanese news report on the possible detention of Kenji Fujimoto, a former sushi chef to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Daily Shincho magazine said Wednesday that Fujimoto was arrested on espionage charges, but a Japanese intelligence official told the NK News service the report was “unconfirmed.” Kim Jong Il died in 2011 and was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un.