TOKYO >> An Australian student who was held in North Korea for a week and then deported denied being a spy today and expressed sorrow that he won’t be able to return to finish his graduate studies at Kim Il Sung University.
North Korea said on Saturday that it detained Alek Sigley because he had spread anti-state propaganda and engaged in spying by providing photos and other materials to news organizations with critical views toward the North. It said it deported Sigley last Thursday after he pleaded for forgiveness for his activities.
Sigley spoke briefly to reporters after being deported but didn’t say what had happened to him.
In a series of tweets today, Sigley answered some questions but again said little about his detention.
“The allegation that I am a spy is (pretty obviously) false,” he said. He said the only material he gave to the news organizations was what was published publicly.
Sigley had been among a few Western students studying in the North Korean capital and also operated a tour agency there.
He tweeted today that he wants to continue his academic research on North Korea, but has no plans to visit again. He said his tour agency has canceled all tours until further notice.
“The whole situation makes me very sad. I will now be unable to receive my master’s degree from Kim Il Sung University after completing more than half the course and achieving good results,” he tweeted. “I may never again walk the streets of Pyongyang, a city that holds a very special place in my heart.”
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Sigley had abused his status as a student by “combing” through Pyongyang and providing photos and other information to news sites such as NK News and other “anti-DPRK” media, an abbreviation of North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It said the North expelled Sigley out of “humanitarian leniency.”
Sigley was released following intervention by Swedish diplomats. He traveled to Tokyo to reunite with his Japanese wife, whom he married in Pyongyang last year.
He tweeted today that he would not give any media interviews or hold a news conference about his experience.
Sigley’s ordeal had a much happier ending than that of American college student Otto Warmbier, who was convicted of attempting to steal a propaganda poster in North Korea and was imprisoned. Warmbier died shortly after being sent back home to the U.S. in a vegetative state in June 2017.