Alek Sigley rejects spying accusation from North

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Alek Sigley rejects spying accusation from North

Alek Sigley, the Australian graduate student who was freed from detention in North Korea last week, on Tuesday dismissed Pyongyang’s accusations that he had spied for a foreign media outlet.

“The allegation that I am a spy is [pretty obviously] false,” Sigley wrote on his Twitter page. “The only material I gave to NK News was what was published publicly on the blog, and the same goes for other media outlets.”

A student of Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, Sigley had been a regular contributor to the North Korea-focused media outlet NK News, writing columns on his life in the North’s capital as one of only a handful of foreigners residing there.

On Saturday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Sigley was detained because he had provided photos and other materials on North Korea to foreign news outlets with critical views on the country. An English-language report from the KCNA said Sigley admitted to “his spying acts of systematically collecting and offering data about the domestic situation of the DPRK,” using the acronym for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. After being seized by North Korean authorities on June 25, Sigley, 29, was released from custody last Thursday as a result of negotiations by Swedish diplomats. He then traveled to Tokyo where he was reunited with his wife.

Saying that he was “very sad” that he would be unable to complete his master’s degree at Kim Il Sung University, Sigley added on social media that he wants to continue academic work on North Korea, but that he wouldn’t be visiting the country any time soon. NK News, the outlet that KCNA accused Sigley of spying for, said in a statement that Sigley’s six articles between January and April 2019 were the extent of his relationship with the website and that “‘anti-state’ in nature is a misrepresentation which we reject.”

It is unknown what content in Sigley’s pieces irked officials in Pyongyang, given that he tried to dispel negative preconceptions about the country among foreigners in some of his articles. Sigley also ran a tour company he founded for foreigners in North Korea called Tongil Tours, which he said would be canceling all further trips until further notice.

“I may never again walk the streets of Pyongyang, a city that holds a very special place in my heart,” he wrote.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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