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Alek Sigley, a 29-year-old Australian Master’s student at Kim Il Sung University in North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang, was released from detention in North Korea on July 4.
Family and friends reported him missing on June 25 after he had not been in digital communication with them since Tuesday morning Australia time.
10 days after his initial disappearance, he was reunited with his wife, Yuka in Tokyo. In a statement on Thursday, Sigley said he was “OK” but added that he would not be discussing what happened to him.
It’s unclear what happened to Sigley during his time in detention. North Korean state media on Saturday said they detained Sigley for committing “spying acts” against the state by providing photos and videos to media that was critical of the state.
Sigley, who grew up in Perth, Australia was a long-term foreign resident on a student visa, according to an op-ed he penned for the Guardian last year, in which he claimed to be the “only Australian in North Korea.”
His experience 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.
Kyodo News via Getty Images
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 Yuka 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.
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