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Tuesday 20 August 2019

Student freed from North Korea thanks diplomats for their efforts

Alek Sigley said he now plans to ‘return to normal life’, after reunited with his wife in Tokyo.

Australian student Alek Sigley arrives at Tokyo airport after his release by North Korea (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)
Australian student Alek Sigley arrives at Tokyo airport after his release by North Korea (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

By Eugene Hoshiko and Emily Wang, Associated Press

A student has thanked diplomats in his native Australia and Sweden for securing his release from detention in North Korea.

In a statement after reuniting with his Japanese wife in Tokyo, Alek Sigley said: “I intend now to return to normal life but wanted to first publicly thank everyone who worked to ensure I was safe and well.”

Mr Sigley had been studying at a Pyongyang university and guiding tours in the North Korean capital before disappearing from social media contact with family and friends.

Mr Sigley, centre, was escorted through security at Tokyo before being reunited with his Japanese wife (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

“I just want everyone to know I am OK, and to thank them for their concern for my wellbeing and their support for my family over the past week. I’m very happy to be back with my wife, Yuka, and to have spoken with my family in Perth to reassure them I’m well,” he said in the statement.

He specifically thanked Sweden’s special envoy to North Korea, Kent Rolf Magnus Harstedt, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne for his release.

Swedish diplomats had raised concerns about Mr Sigley with North Korean authorities in Pyongyang, where Australia does not have an embassy.

“This outcome demonstrates the value of discrete behind-the-scenes work of officials in resolving complex and sensitive consular cases in close partnership with other governments,” Mr Morrison said in Parliament Thursday.

In an interview with Swedish public radio, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said that Mr Harstedt “raised the issue of this case at highest level” in North Korea and the release happened during his visit there.

Mr Sigley’s father, Gary Sigley, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Western Australia, said his son had been treated well in North Korea.

It was a much happier outcome than the case of American college student Otto Warmbier, who was convicted of attempting to steal a propaganda poster and imprisoned in North Korea.

Mr Warmbier died shortly after being sent back home to the US in a vegetative state in June 2017.

Mr Sigley’s friend and fellow student of North Korea, University of Technology Sydney academic Bronwen Dalton, said Mr Sigley’s wife was thrilled by his release.

“We were jumping up and down and we love Sweden,” he said.

“He’s a fine, young, emerging Asian scholar, he is very applied to his studies. I really doubted whether he did actually anything wrong by the regime,” Mr Dalton added.

PA Media

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