SYDNEY: The family of an Australian man studying at a university in North Korea said on Thursday that it had lost contact with him in recent days, and Australian officials said they were “urgently seeking clarification” about his whereabouts.
News reports in South Korea, citing anonymous sources, said that the student, Alek Sigley, 29, who was pursuing a master’s degree in Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, the North’s capital, had been detained by authorities.
But North Korea has issued no statements about Sigley, and neither his family nor the Australian officials confirmed that he had been arrested.
Sigley’s family said in a statement Thursday that it was working with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to seek information about his whereabouts and welfare.
“Alek has not been in digital contact with friends and family since Tuesday morning Australian time, which is unusual for him,” the statement said. His Facebook page and Twitter feed were last updated on Monday, and his Facebook page is no longer accessible.
In its statement, his family called him a “scholar and traveller” who has “visited, studied and lived in several countries in Asia” and is fluent in Mandarin and Korean.
On social media, Sigley has offered a close look at his life inside the reclusive North, posting an array of images of things like food, restaurants and shops.
His posts could be those of any foreign exchange student — lunch at an ambassador’s residence, student discounts for exhibitions and museums, viewings of the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’.
But they originated in a totalitarian state where Western visitors are extremely few and some have been arrested for seemingly minor infractions and given draconian sentences.
On his blog, “From Perth to Pyongyang,” Sigley describes himself as the son of an “Anglo-Aussie Sinologist” and a Shanghainese mother, and says that his fascination with North Korea began after he befriended students from the North while at college in Shanghai.
He began studying Korean in 2011, he said, and made his first visit to North Korea the year after.
He created a tour operation to take other foreign students into the country, and has led “well over a dozen” tours, he said. He married his wife, who is Japanese, in North Korea.