Australian student who lives in North Korea reportedly detained ahead of a possible third US summit

Inside the Museum of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ Museum) in the Goseong County, Gangwon Province, South Korea. Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty Images
  • An Australian man is believed to have been detained in North Korea, the Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed to Business Insider.
  • The man has been identified as Alek Sigley, a 29-year-old student completing his Masters in the capital of Pyongyang, according to media reports from South Korea and Japan.
  • Sigley claims to be “the only Australian living in North Korea”, runs an educational tour company there, and has written editorials for international outlets about his experience there.

An Australian man has reportedly been arrested in North Korea, just hours before Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison sits down with US President Donald Trump in Japan to discuss the rogue state.

A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) confirmed to Business Insider Australia 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.

Media outlets in South Korea and Japan have both identified the arrested man as Alek Sigley, a 29-year-old Australian who claims to be the “only Australian in North Korea.”

The Sigley family said the reports of his arrest have not been confirmed and they are still trying to reach Alek.

“Alek has not been in digital contact with friends and family since Tuesday morning Australian time which is unusual for him,” a spokesperson said in a statement issued to media.

“(DFAT) is therefore seeking to confirm his whereabouts and welfare.”

The family confirmed that Alek had visited North Korea several times since 2014 and can speak Mandarin and Korean fluently, as well as some Japanese.

Sigley has been active on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, sharing his photos and experiences studying a Masters of North Korea Literature in the capital Pyongyang.

He also founded TongilTours, a company that organises educational tourism in North Korea.

Earlier this week, Sigley had posted photos of Kim II Sung, the university where he studied as well as a new hotel in the area.

Since moving to North Korea, Sigley has written a number of articles detailing what life is like inside North Korea.

In January, he began writing regular articles for American-based NK News, including what it is like attending university, eating out in Pyongyang and even what apps are available to citizens.

He even made a political statement when he penned an opinion piece pleading with Trump not to bomb his wedding.

Reports of his arrest come as world leaders gather in the region.

After dining with Morrison in Osaka, Trump will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul to discuss the North Korean situation.

This week, Trump suggested that there could be a potential third summit between him and Kim Jong-un on the cards, after the last one in Hanoi in February.

The reported detention of Sigley ahead of any talks could be used as a bargaining chip, Washington-based North Korea expert and vice president Peterson Institute for International Economics Marcus Noland told the Australian Financial Review (AFR).

“One would think this plays to Trump’s fantasy. You dangle the hostage out there and make the release part of the deal for a meeting,” Noland said.

“And Trump can portray himself as a man of action and friend and pall of the Australian people … that would be their motivation.”

Reports of Sigley’s arrest emerged just two years after American student Otto Warmbier died after spending 17 months in a North Korean jail.

In 2018, Trump conceded the first summit held between him and Kim Jong-un would not have happened had it not been for Warmbier’s death.