Freed Australian student denies spying on North Korea

Alek Sigley said the situation made him 'very sad'

FILE PHOTO: Australian student Alek Sigley, 29, who was detained in North Korea, arrives at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Japan July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
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An Australian man freed from North Korean custody last week has denied spying on the country.

Alek Sigley, 29, was released last Thursday after being detained for several days and flown to Tokyo to be reunited with his wife.

The country’s state media accused Mr Sigley of spying, although it did not say for whom he was working or what information he supposedly handed over.

Mr Sigley had admitted “he had been spying by collecting our internal information and sharing with others and repeatedly asked for our forgiveness for infringing on our sovereignty”, the official North Korean news agency KCNA said.

After his release last week, Mr Sigley put out a formal statement on his imprisonment. On Tuesday he elaborated on Twitter.

“The allegation that I am a spy is pretty obviously false,” he tweeted. “The whole situation makes me very sad.”

Mr Sigley, who speaks fluent Korean, organised tours to North Korea and ran social media sites that posted apolitical content about life in one of the world’s most secretive nations.

He also wrote columns for Washington-based specialist website NK News, which North Korean state media called an anti-regime news outlet in a report on Saturday.

“I may never again walk the streets of Pyongyang, a city that holds a very special place in my heart,” he wrote.

“I may never again see my teachers and my partners in the travel industry, who I’ve come to consider close friends. But that’s life.”

Mr Sigley also expressed sadness that he would be unable to complete his master’s degree from Kim Il-sung University, despite finishing more than half of the course.

Securing his release was a difficult operation for the Australian government because it has no diplomatic representation in the country. Instead, a Swedish envoy helped to negotiate his release.

Mr Sigley said in his original statement that he hoped to return to a “normal life”.