The Australian scholar believed to be detained inside North Korea may have been silenced ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to the demilitarized zone, an expert said on Friday.
The worrying new theory comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke of his concern for Mr Sigley’s welfare from the G20 summit of central bankers and world leaders in Japan.
‘It is troubling to me and I’m sure his family as well,’ Mr Morrison said from Osaka on Friday.
Alek Sigley may be safe with his communications cut off as tensions rise in the secretive communist state ahead of US President Donald Trump’s weekend visit to South Korea
Alek Sigley (right) at his wedding with Yuka Morinaga, 26, in May, 2018. Ms Morinaga received her last message from Mr Sigley on Monday evening. Ms Morinaga normally speaks to her husband every day over WhatsApp from Tokyo where she is based
‘The expression of support and assistance that have come from other nations I’ve met with while I’ve been here is very welcome,’ he said.
‘We’ll continue to focus very sharply on that, and seek to clarify what exactly has occurred and then take steps from there.’
Australian National University North Korea expert Leonard Petrov said the secretive communist state might have viewed Mr Sigley’s regular blogging on life in North Korea as a security risk and deliberately cut him off from means of communication.
North Korea expert Leonard Petrov said North Korea might have viewed Mr Sigley’s regular blogging on life in North Korea as a security risk and deliberately cut him off from means of communication.
‘I think that North Koreans potentially might have decided to shut down his blog … because the information was coming out of North Korea, which is unprecedented,’ Dr Petrov told the ABC.
Mr Sigley, who is thought to be the only Australian living in North Korea, moved there in 2018 to study for a master’s degree in Korean literature at Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang.
He also runs a tour business for foreign visitors and blogs frequently. He has a twitter account with 4000 followers.
On his blog and social media accounts, Mr Sigley has shared non-controversial, non-political information about daily life in the hermit kindom, that is fascinating to outsiders because it is so closed.
Dr Petrov, a friend of Mr Sigley, said he did not think Mr Sigley was in immediate danger, because he was a foreign national who had been permitted to study there.
But he remained a potential risk as he was not controlled and censored by the North Korean dictatorship, he said.
Pictured: Alek Sigley’s student ID for the Kim Il Sung University where he is studying Korean Literature
Dr Petrov said with US President Donald Trump scheduled to visit the demilitarized zone on Sunday that tensions had been heightened in both South and North Korea leading to intensified security measures.
Trump is set to arrive in South Korea for a two-day visit on Saturday and will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday, following a summit of G20 leaders in Japan.
‘Normally North Korea is a closed book,’ Dr Petrov said.
‘As a long-term foreign resident on a student visa, I have nearly unprecedented access to Pyongyang,’ he wrote in an editorial in The Guardian
‘Information is protected, journalists are not permitted or very carefully scrutinised.
‘So an international student studying at the university for more than a year and constantly bringing information about the reclusive country could have been seen as a potential distraction factor on the eve of a potential third summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.’
Mr Sigley’s last social media post on June 24 was about the Ryugyong Hotel, which remained famously unfinished after construction was halted in 1992 as North Korea entered an economic crisis.
He has been open about sharing his experiences living in North Korea, writing an editorial in The Guardian about his time there.
Mr Sigley’s last social media post (pictured) on June 24 was about the Ryugyong Hotel, which remained famously unfinished after construction was halted in 1992 as North Korea entered an economic crisis
North Korea dictatorship:
North Korea is a communist dictatorship founded in 1948
It has a population of 25million and the capital is Pyongyang
The current leader is Kim Jong-Il, 36
There are extremely strict laws on what citizens can do and say
Anyone speaking unfavorably about the government can be arrested
Foreigners are often closely watched when they are allowed in to visit
The last time a foreigner was arrested was in 2017
University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier was detained for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster
He died six days after being brought back to the United States
‘As a long-term foreign resident on a student visa, I have nearly unprecedented access to Pyongyang,’ he wrote.
‘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.’
The 29-year-old student has not been in digital contact with friends and family since Tuesday morning Australian time, which is unusual for him.
His panic-striken wife Yuka Morinaga, 26, of Japan, received her last message from Mr Sigley on Monday evening.
Ms Morinaga, who married Mr Sigley in Pyongyang in May 2018 in front of dozens of family and friends, normally speaks to her husband every day over WhatsApp from Tokyo where she is based.
Ms Morinaga said she hadn’t noticed anything strange in their last conversation as her husband spoke about food and shared photos of a tailor-made suit he made with classmates.
Australia does not have an official diplomatic presence in North Korea and the British ambassador is handling the case.
Trade minister Simon Birmingham told ABC Radio National on Friday morning that the Australian government has been unable to confirm Mr Sigley’s whereabouts or what his condition might be.
‘The fact that we have not been able to confirm that is a demonstration as to how difficult it is in terms of dealing with North Korea,’ he said.
North Korea was an unpredictable destination and circumstances there were beyond Australia’s control, he said.
Mr Birmingham said Sweden was helping with diplomatic relations in North Korea through their embassy in Pyongyang while Australia was providing consular assistance to Mr Sigley’s family.
Mr Sigley shared photos of himself in a North Korean football uniform last week
He also shared photos of propaganda posters he had seen throughout the DPRK (above)
Mr Sigley’s social media accounts have been closed since his disappearance by his family to prevent unnecessary speculation and comments on those channels.
It was previously reported that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had confirmed an Australian man had reportedly been detained in North Korea.
Daily Mail Australia contacted the Department on Friday to seek confirmation. The Department pointed Daily Mail to Trade Minister Simon Birmingham’s comments that the government was continuing to seek clarification on Mr Sigley’s whereabouts.
Foreigners have not been detained in North Korea since the death of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier in 2017.
Otto Warmbier was taken in to custody in Pyongyang for taking a propaganda poster as a souvenir. He was brought back to the United States in a coma in June, 2017
Mr Warmbier is taken off the plane in a vegetative state moments after arriving back in the United States. He died six days later, with his family claiming he was tortured in North Korea
Mr Warmbier had been travelling in a group to Pyongyang when he was arrested and detained at the airport for taking a propaganda poster as a souvenir from the hotel he was staying in.
He was taken into custody in Pyongyang then returned to his family later in a vegetative state which the North Korean authorities blamed on food poisoning.
Mr Warmbier died six days after he was returned to the US in June 2017.
What has Alek Sigley been sharing?
Alek Sigley writes a blog where he shares details about life in North Korea.
He wrote that his aim of blogging was ‘simply to present life in North Korea as I see and experience it’.
‘I do not claim for this to be the authoritative or definitive perspective on the country,’ he wrote.
In one post he has shared about the restaurants he has visited in the secretive country.
He revealed that consumers can try bear, wild boar and donkey.
Restaurants also offer ostrich, water buffalo, turkey, racoon dog, and badger, he said.
‘I’ve discovered a number of excellent places to dine in the city,’ he wrote.
In one post he has shared about the restaurants he has visited in the secretive country
‘My dormitory friends (some of the other foreign students) and I have a custom of trying several new restaurants each week.
‘They are sometimes not far from our home in Taesong District, and at other times further afield. A few are the recommendations of local or foreign friends, while others are places we simply stumble into.’
He has also posted about fashion in North Korea, which he claims has been ‘getting more modern’.
In the post he also shared images from a fashion magazine.
Alek Sigley has been posting rare glimpses inside the secretive country where rules around media are notoriously strict
‘The men’s magazine carries out the same function as the women’s: to provide an inventory of state-sanctioned styles, and is also structured in a similar manner, with color photos of models in the front and designs in the back, and the occasional block of text offering fashion advice,’ he wrote.
However, he said the streetwear of the South remains a long way off.
He said the women’s magazine presented clothing as needing to ’embody the innate characteristics of our (Korean) people’. Whereas the men’s magazine dropped the tradition reference.
He wrote a blog post in May last year detailing how he had been seated 15 metres away from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the ballet.
He said the leader was greeted with rapturous applause by an ecstatic crowd.
‘The men’s magazine carries out the same function as the women’s: to provide an inventory of state-sanctioned styles,’ he wrote