Here's everything we know about Alek Sigley, an Australian university student and tour guide reportedly detained in North Korea
Alek Sigley, a 29-year-old Australian Master's student at Kim Il Sung University in North Korea's capital of Pyongyang, is believed to be detained in North Korea, according to media reports from South Korea and Japan.
A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed to Business Insider Australia on Thursday morning that it was "providing consular assistance ... to the family of an Australian man who has been reported as being detained in North Korea."
"The Department is urgently seeking clarification," the spokesperson said.
Sigley, who grew up in Perth, Australia is a long-term foreign resident on a student visa, according to an op-ed he penned for the Guardian last year. He claimed to be the "only Australian in North Korea," and his friends reported him missing earlier this week, the Australian Broadcasting Company reported.
A spokesperson for Sigley's family said in a statement that as of 1 p.m. Australian time Alek's detention has not been confirmed.
"The situation is that Alek has not been in digital contact with friends and family since Tuesday morning Australian time, which is unusual," it read. "Australia's Department of Homeland Affairs and Trade are therefore seeking to confirm his whereabouts and welfare."
"Alek's family hopes to re-establish contact with him soon."
North Korea has limited diplomatic relations with Australia, and neither country has an official diplomatic presence in the other country. Alek's case brings to mind the case of Otto Warmbier, a US college student who was detained in North Korea in 2016 and later died under mysterious circumstances.
Here's everything we know about Alek Sigley:
Sigley has studied at several universities around the world and speaks several languages.
According to his Facebook page, Sigley studied Asian Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, a top international university on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan, from 2008-2009.
He then moved to China to study Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University until 2010. Upon completion of his studies, he began a 3-year program at Fudan University in Shanghai where he studied philosophy.
It appears Sigley also studied Korean studied at Sogang University, a liberal arts university in Seoul, South Korea, from 2015 to 2017, and studied philosophy at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia's capital, until 2018.
Sigley's Facebook says he took short-term Korean lessons at Kim Hyong Jik University in Pyongyang in 2016 and is currently studying at Kim Il-sung University in North Korea's capital, the alma mater of many of North Korea's elite including leader Kim Jong Un.
According to an interview Sigley did with American public radio organization PRI, his thesis at North Korea's top university will be on romance in North Korean literature. Sigley said it was difficult to get into the university but that his established "connections" inside country deemed him "trustworthy."
"There's not really an open application process. The university has a website but, if you go there, you won't find any information whatsoever on how to apply," he said in the interview.
"But if you've already started a business and made connections, then it becomes possible. They have to decide you're trustworthy."
He also ran a tour company.
Sigley founded and ran an educational tour company called Tongil Tours, according to his Twitter page, which held tours in North Korea and Northeast Asia.
According to the tour's website, the company "empowers university students, life-long learners, and inquisitive people everywhere to examine the world in which they live through meaningful learning tours to North Korea, Asia, and beyond." It also provides travel information to foreigners looking to come to North Korea.
He got married in Pyongyang to a Japanese woman named Yuka.
Sigley married wife Yu ka on May 4, 2018, in Pyongyang, according to a post on his tour's website.
He also penned an opinion piece in the Independent Australian titled "Dear President Trump, please don't bomb my wedding in North Korea" in which he provided more details on the nuptials and addressed US President Donald Trump and asked him "to hold off the nuclear bombing of North Korea for his wedding, then consider making peace with Kim Jong Un.
Sigley met his wife, who hails from Hiroshima, Japan, in 2011, according to the article. He also revealed that he is of Chinese-Australian descent.
He has has written several op-eds detailing his life in North Korea.
In addition to writing about his wedding for the Independent Australian, Sigley also detailed his life as an Australian living in North Korea in an op-ed to The Guardian.
In the op-ed, he revealed that he was "one of only a handful of long-term western residents, one of only three western students, and the only Australian in the entire country."
He added that he became interested in socialism after studying the Russian revolution in high school, and went on to study in China and lived in the same dorm as a North Korean. His interactions with the North Korean "piqued his curiosity," and he began his Master's in contemporary North Korean literature in April 2018.
He received special treatment as a foreigner.
While social media is largely banned in North Korea, Sigley is still able to access Twitter and Facebook, where he uploads photos and videos of his experiences.
Sigley told PRI in February that North Korean authorities have not complained or attempted to censor his posts, allowing him much more digital freedom than an average North Korean.
Several of Sigley's Twitter posts indicate he received special treatment in North Korea as a foreigner.
In a November 2018 Twitter post, he said he and some friends were the "only foreigners allowed to take Pyongyang Metro without a guide."
Foreign students are the only foreigners allowed to take #Pyongyang Metro without a guide. Today I rode alone from uni to downtown to meet my tourists @TongilTours . I am half-Asian so can blend in. I listen to #Buckethead through earphones as I ride. This is normal. #NorthKorea pic.twitter.com/ubcdXZeaNL— Alek Sigley (@AlekSigley) November 18, 2018
In a post from June 12, Sigley said during a tour to the zoo that he was able to to pay a "cheaper rate" and was offered "preferential treatment."
The Natural History Museum was 4,000 won and the Zoo was 5,000 won ($1= about 8,000 won). We were grateful for such preferential treatment.
ìžì—°ë°•ë¬¼ê´€ì€ 4,000ì›ì´ì˜€ëŠ”ë° ë™ë¬¼ì›ì€ 5,000ì›ì´ì˜€ë‹¤ ($1= ì•½ 8,000ì›). ìš°ë¦¬ë¥¼ ê·¸ë ‡ê²Œ ìš°ëŒ€í•´ì¤˜ì„œ ê°ì‚¬í–ˆë‹¤. pic.twitter.com/yD413xhRbV — Alek Sigley (@AlekSigley) June 12, 2019
He appeared to be quite friendly with the locals.
In his op-ed in The Guardian, he explained that his interactions with local Pyongyang residents "can be limited at times," though he was able to eat and dine around the city freely.
He told PRI in February that as a student, he can roam around the capital without the need for an organized tour or a government-imposed guardian as most other foreign visitors are required. In his social media posts, he appears to have a jovial relationship with at least some North Koreans. In one video dated May 30, he can be seen singing karaoke with people from a local printer store.
Went to the printer store to print some exam prep materials and unexpectedly end up singing "Pyongyang Cold Noodles are the Best" and other NK songs w/ staffì¸ì‡„ê°€ê²Œì—ì„œ ì‹œí—˜ ì¤€ë¹„ ìžë£Œë¥¼ ì¸ì‡„í•˜ëŸ¬ ê°”ë‹¤ê°€ ê°‘ìž‘ìŠ¤ëŸ½ê²Œ ì§ì›ë“¤ê³¼ "í‰ì–‘ëžë©´ ì œì¼ì´ì•¼"ë¥¼ ë¹„ë¡¯í•œ ë¶ì¡°ì„ ë…¸ëž˜ë¥¼ ë¶€ë¥´ê²Œ ë˜ì—ˆë‹¤ pic.twitter.com/723P9hIUKt— Alek Sigley (@AlekSigley) May 30, 2019
In another post, he gave media interviews during the National Kimchi Exhibition in Pyongyang as curious locals looked on.
He visited his family in Perth on February 4.
Back home in Perth to celebrate Chinese New Year with the family after two eventful semesters at Kim Il Sung University.
Mum made soy sauce duck (é†¬é´¨) and simmered Chinese cabbage, dad made salad and kimchi. Yum!
Happy Year of the Pig!
Sigley returned to Australia earlier this year to celebrate Chinese New Year with his family after completing two semesters at Kim Il Sung University.
"Happy Year of the Pig!" he wrote next to a picture of his parents.
Sigley's last tweet was on June 24, just days before reports of his alleged detention surfaced.
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