Growing fear for Australian student missing in North Korea

Sigley, 29, a university student and tour guide in Pyongyang, has been traveling to and from North Korea since 2012.

Sara Rubenstein ,

Kim Il-Sung Square, Pyongyang North Korea
Kim Il-Sung Square, Pyongyang North Korea
צילום: iStock

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reported on Friday that a missing Australian student in North Korea has still not been reached. The family of Alek Sigley has been desperately trying to contact him since Tuesday.

Sigley, 29, a university student and tour guide in Pyongyang, has been traveling to and from North Korea since 2012, writing about his experiences with a positive spin on social media. Family and friends, who say he's normally active on social media on a daily basis, report that his last post was on Tuesday.

Sigley's Japanese wife, Yuka Morinaga, said that she usually speaks to her husband from Tokyo every day on Whatsapp but he hasn't been in touch since Monday. “We don’t know what’s happened,” Morinaga said. “We don’t even know if he’s been detained or not.”

Although there has been no official North Korean reports of his detainment, there have been unconfirmed media reports that Sigley was detained.

His family has removed Sigley's social media accounts. A statement from the family's spokeswoman said, "This has been done at the instigation of his family to limit unnecessary speculation and commentary on those channels."

Morrison, who attended the Group of 20 summit on Thursday, said he raised the issue with world leaders, albeit not with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “In the short time we had available, I didn’t have that opportunity, but I discussed it with many other leaders,” Morrison said.

“I have had the issue ... raised with me last night and today by other leaders and I’ve raised it with them as well — those who particularly have insights and abilities to assist us — and those offers of assistance have been very genuine, but I must say our key focus at the moment is to ascertain precisely where Alek is and in what circumstances and that’s the focus of the efforts of our officials and our partners right now."

Australia does not maintain an embassy in North Korea but the Swedish Embassy provides some consular services for Australian citizens.

Australian National University expert on North Korea, Leonid Petrov, who is a friend of Sigley, believes that he may have been “deliberately cut off from means of communications” due to Trump's presence in the region, according to an Associated Press report.

“I know Alek well and he has been always on Facebook, on Skype and he is very proactive in the media,” Petrov said.

“In the context of what is going on on the Korean Peninsula right now — President Trump is in Japan today, going to be in South Korea on Sunday, potentially going to the Demilitarized Zone — I believe tensions and security measures are heightened both in South and North Korea."

“I think that North Koreans potentially might have decided to shut down his blog, his Facebook account because the information coming out of North Korea ... is unprecedented. Normally North Korea is a closed book,” Petrov concluded.