G20 nations have expressed their concern to Prime Minister Scott Morrison over the feared disappearance of an Australian man in North Korea.
Mr Morrison has had offers of international support and assistance as officials try to work out what has happened to Alek Sigley, who’d been working and studying in Pyongyang.
The prime minister says other nations raised the case with him on the sidelines of the G20 and he remains personally troubled, but no closer to answers about the Perth man’s whereabouts.
Mr Sigley, a tour guide, student and blogger, has not been heard from since Monday and his wife and family have expressed serious concerns about his fate.
But they also say there is no proof he has been detained by the North Korea regime.
“It’s very troubling and concerning to me and I’m sure it is to his family as well,” the prime minister has told the ABC from the G20 in Osaka.
“The expression of support and assistance that have come from other nations I’ve met with while I’ve been here is very welcome.
“We’ll continue to focus very sharply on that, and seek to clarify what exactly has occurred and then take steps from there.”
Mr Sigley’s Tokyo-based wife Yuka Morinaga last spoke to him on Monday, the same day his normally active social media channels went silent.
“We don’t know what’s happened. We don’t even know if he has been detained or not. I’m worried but we don’t know anything yet,” she has told News Corp Australia.
Mr Sigley’s friend – Australian National University Korea expert Dr Leonid Petrov – has offered a political explanation for the Australian’s sudden silence, given his history as an active writer and blogger about life in North Korea.
Dr Petrov believes North Korea may have shut down his friend’s communication channels ahead of Donald Trump’s visit on Sunday to the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea, and amid talk of a third summit between the US president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“I don’t think there is any danger to his wellbeing. Perhaps he is being deliberately cut off from means of communication. It is a normal practice,” he told the ABC.
“Foreigners, when they have a high profile in North Korea, may be screened and also potentially they may be asked not be in contact with the rest of the world when something significant is happening in Korea.”
Australian officials urgently seeking clarification
Consular officials are providing assistance to the family of a Perth man reportedly detained in North Korea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it is “urgently seeking clarification” after the man was reportedly arrested in Pyongyang.
“Owing to our privacy obligations we will not provide further comment,” a spokesperson told AAP on Thursday.
Australian and South Korean media have identified the detained man as Alek Sigley, a 29-year-old university student in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
Mr Sigley, who attended Rossmoyne Senior High School, claims to be the first Australian student to have studied in North Korea.
(2/4) Having my measurements taken, I ordered a football/soccer kit identical to that of the DPRK National Team, and a DPRK Olympic uniform.
(2/4) 나는 이 상점에 가서, 치수를 잰 후 북조선 축구 종합(국가대표) 팀, 올림픽 선수단이 입었던 것과 꼭같은 것을 주문했다. pic.twitter.com/nRLBYFfUuY
— Alek Sigley (@AlekSigley) June 22, 2019
He is understood to be studying Korean literature at the Kim II Sung University and runs a travel company out of Pyongyang called Tongil Tours.
In a 2016 Huffington Post article, Mr Sigley detailed how he came to study in the reclusive country.
“Taking classes there gave me a whole new perspective on the country and on the value of direct engagement with the North Korean people,” he wrote.
He made numerous trips to North Korea before deciding to study there, and in March wrote: “As a long-term foreign resident on a student visa, I have nearly unprecedented access to Pyongyang”.
“I’m free to wander around the city, without anyone accompanying me.
“Interaction with locals can be limited at times, but I can shop and dine almost anywhere I want.”
It’s not the first case of an Australian being detained in North Korea. Elderly South Australian missionary John Short was deported from the country in 2014 for trying to spread Christianity.
After his release, Mr Short described gruelling daily interrogations and being kept under 24-hour guard.
“I strongly protested that I was not a spy, nor working with any South Korean organisations nor was I hostile to the DPRK,” he said, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
North Korea said it released Mr Short after he sought forgiveness and apologised for his anti-state religious acts.