‘I’m good’, says Perth man freed from North Korea

Australian student Alek Sigley gestures as he arrives at the airport in Beijing on Thursday, July 4, 2019. The Australian student who vanished in North Korea more than a week ago arrived in Beijing on Thursday morning (AP Photo/Emily Wang)
Australian student Alek Sigley gestures as he arrives at the airport in Beijing on Thursday, July 4, 2019. The Australian student who vanished in North Korea more than a week ago arrived in Beijing on Thursday morning (AP Photo/Emily Wang)

AUSTRALIAN student Alek Sigley says he is feeling great after being freed from detention in North Korea, but remained tight lipped about his experience.

The 29-year-old arrived in Beijing on Thursday and will fly to Tokyo to reunite with his wife.

“I’m OK, I’m OK, yeah. I’m good. I’m very good … great,” he told reporters at Beijing airport.

But he only responded with “aah” when asked what happened in Pyongyang.

Australian student Alek Sigley gestures as he arrives at the airport in Beijing. Picture: AP Photo/Emily Wang

He was accompanied at the airport by Swedish diplomatic officials who negotiated with North Korea on Australia’s behalf to secure his release.
Mr Sigley was taken from the airport to the Australian embassy in Beijing.

His relieved father Gary Sigley was hopeful of learning more about his son’s detention shortly.

“I am sure in the coming days and weeks there will be some more information about what has transpired,” he told reporters in Perth.

During question time in federal parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the Perth student was safe and well.

Australia does not have an embassy in North Korea, so asked Sweden’s delegates in Pyongyang to meet with North Korean officials on Wednesday to raise Mr Sigley’s disappearance.

The Perth man was then released on Thursday morning.

“On behalf of the Australian government, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the Swedish authorities for their invaluable assistance in securing Alek’s prompt release,” Mr Morrison told parliament.

“(This) demonstrates the value of discreet, behind-the-scenes work by officials in solving sensitive consular cases in close partnership with other governments.”

Mr Sigley, who runs the Tongil Tours tour company and had been studying in Pyongyang, was detained in North Korea last week.

He was last heard from on June 25 and had since fallen silent on social media.

Alek Sigley’s family has been advised of his release. Picture: Facebook

Gary Sigley says the family is “over the moon” that he is safe.

“He is fine, he is in very good spirits, he’s been treated well,” he told reporters at home in Perth.

He said he hoped to see his son in Australia soon but did not know whether he would return to North Korea.

“At this stage I have no idea what is travel plans are,” he said.

He admitted the family had been anxious since Alek’s disappearance.

“The last week has been a very difficult week for Alek’s immediate family, we were very worried when we didn’t have any news about his situation,” he said.

“We are just so happy now that the situation has been resolved and we know he is safe and sound in Beijing and in the care of the Australian Embassy.

“It is also good to know that he has been in constant good spirits and been well the whole time.”

He thanked the Australian and Swedish governments for their “stellar work.”

“And also those working in the background, the silent heroes who helped bring this about.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the Perth student was safe and well.

Mr Sigley grew up in Perth with his father, an Asian Studies academic, and his Chinese-born mother.

He attended Rossmoyne Senior High School and studied at the ANU in Canberra and then in Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul.

He is fluent in Mandarin and Korean, as well as speaking some Japanese.

Mr Sigley started a Masters degree in Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang in 2018 after first visiting North Korea in 2012.

He has been running a travel company out of Pyongyang called Tongil Tours.

Mr Sigley’s is the first known arrest of a foreigner in North Korea since American student Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labour for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster in 2015.

Mr Warmbier was repatriated to the US in a coma a year-and-a-half later, and died six days after his return.