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An Australian student who left to study in North Korea disappeared. South Korean media write about his arrest

In social networks, Alec Sigli often defended the DPRK, and in 2018 he married and opened a travel agency in Pyongyang.

An Australian student who left to study in North Korea disappeared. South Korean media write about his arrest
Alec Sigley Photos from the Australian twitter

On June 27, South Korean media, citing anonymous sources, reported on the detention of 29-year-old Australian Alec Sigley, who went to North Korea to study and opened a travel agency there. There is no exact evidence of Sigley’s detention, his relatives also do not confirm the information of the media. The last time close contact him three days ago, on June 24.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said they were clarifying the circumstances of a citizen’s loss. The DPRK leadership has not yet commented on rumors about Sigley’s detention, but if he was indeed detained by order of the authorities, then the case could potentially lead to an international conflict. The last time this happened to an American tourist was he was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a year later he was returned to his homeland in a vegetative state.

Publication of propaganda posters and photos of city institutions – which could have caused Sigley’s possible detention

For Sigley, who regularly covered his life in DPRK on Twitter and Facebook (after disappearing for some unknown reason, his account was no longer available), a long silence on the Internet is not typical. His friend, academician in the field of North Korea, Leonid Petrov, said that he spoke with a student shortly before his disappearance. “He’s online on Skype, I see a green light [pointing to it], but doesn’t respond to messages,” said the scientist.

From Sigley’s publications in the media and social networks, it seems that, in general, he is well-disposed towards the DPRK. The Australian called North Korea a country moving from “isolation to fast food, smartphones and plastic surgery.” The student also talked about the complete freedom of movement around the city: “Sometimes interaction with local people is limited, but I buy food and have dinner wherever I want,” the student wrote.
In May, Sigley gathered with his fellow students at the apartment, they drank local alcohol and watched Game of Thrones.

According to the Australian, North Korea is changing rapidly: there are more goods in stores, the government has adopted several reforms of economic liberalization. Locals are becoming more hospitable to foreigners, and the interests of local students, including football, binge and cigarettes, are almost the same as those of their peers in other countries, Sigli said.

In early 2019, Sigley began working with NK News , a South Korean publication with American reporters who wrote news and was investigating the DPRK. However, the Australian basically wrote there only about the life of local residents without direct criticism of the authorities. In a personal blog, he stressed that he did not want to cover the political side of North Korea and concentrated only on personal experience.

Despite the precaution, recently on his Facebook page the Australian liked a comment about cooperation with CIA agents. In the same place, Sigley published DPRK propaganda posters and likes to joke friends about DPRK nuclear weapons. On Twitter, he posted photos of urban restaurants and fashion stores

Screenshot of Facebook commentary Sigley with posters he saw in the DPRK

According to the Daily Mail, North Korean law enforcement agencies could negatively perceive such behavior. Sigley admitted that the security services of the DPRK could follow his social networks, but he explained that he was not afraid of the consequences, since he did not publish provocative content. “I got acquainted with all these cases in detail,  he said .

Sigley’s latest Twitter feed is dated June 24th. In it, he writes about the possible opening of the capital’s Ryugen hotel. This is a 105-storey pyramidal skyscraper, the construction of which began in 1987 and continues to this day

According to the student, the DPRK authorities have never asked him to censor posts in social networks.

In the DPRK, Sigley studies and works, and in 2018 he played a wedding in Pyongyang

Born in the Australian city of Perth, Sigley was fond of Asian culture since childhood. His mother is from Shanghai, and his father is an Anglo-Australian Sinolog (complex of sciences studying modern China). After studying the October Revolution in history lessons, he became interested in socialism. Over the years, he studied Asian culture and literature in various universities: first in Japan, then in China, and then in South Korea.

In 2014, Sigley came to the DPRK for the first time – he was not afraid of the country and wanted to study it on his own. Thanks to subsequent trips and communication with local people, he learned local traditions and knew which of them should not be violated, so as not to provoke the police

Sigly in a personal set of clothes for football, copying the equipment of the national team and the Olympic form of the DPRK

In 2018, Sigley graduated from a college at the Australian National University and entered the magistracy at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. His friend and academician Leonid Petrov said that he became the first Australian to enter a North Korean university. But this was not easy: the student had long lined up relations with the leadership of the university and achieved support from the Australian government.

In parallel with his studies, Sigli opened a travel agency in Pyongyang, Tongil Tours , using accumulated contacts. The headquarters of the organization is located in Australia, and excursions mainly specialize in educational tourism. As the friends of the disappeared say , during excursions he always warned tourists what can and cannot be done in the DPRK

Alec Sigley with his wife Photos from the Australian page in Feibsuk

In May 2018, Sigley married a Japanese woman named South Morinaga, whom he met in 2011. After the ceremony in Pyongyang, the newlyweds went on a honeymoon in North Korea. According to The Guardian, Sigli recently added a diploma and planned to leave North Korea soon. His wife lives in Japan.

The last time a foreigner was detained in the DPRK in 2016 – it ended with a court and his death

The role of the DPRK authorities in the disappearance of Sigli is not proven, but if the government really has to do with it, then it is fully aware of the consequences of its decision, said Australian University La Trobe University and DPRK specialist Yuan Graham . “Going on to such a step, they accept the fact that what happened will probably be viewed as a political matter,” he adds.

Graham admitted that the detention of a student, if it really happened, could be one of the levers of the DPRK in future negotiations with Australia and its associates. Sigley disappeared before meeting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with US President Donald Trump at the G20 summit. Soon the American president will also discuss with the South Korean President Moon Jae-Inom a new summit with the participation of the head of the DPRK.

Otto Wombier under escort AP Photo

However, these plans may be postponed or canceled if the story of the Australian is not resolved. In 2016, the story of the American student Otto Wombiera began with a similar disappearance , who allegedly tried to steal a propaganda poster from a local hotel. He was found guilty of a “crime against the state” and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

For some unknown reason, during imprisonment, a 22-year-old youth fell into a coma. The authorities of the DPRK allowed to take him to the United States, where he died without regaining consciousness. This event caused a split in relations between Pyongyang and Washington, which could only be established after a year of an exchange of threats between Trump and Kim Jong-un

Sigley with other foreign students of Kim Il Sung University

Graham asks not to compare the history of Sigley and Wombiera. The American came to the country as a tourist, while the Australian studied at a prestigious university, he knew the local traditions and laws. “If Sigley is suddenly arrested, it will only worsen the image of North Korea, because he, it seems to me, tried to portray the DPRK in a contentedly positive or soft light,” the expert believes .

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