North Korea has claimed an Australian student living in North Korea committed espionage and spread propaganda while living in the country.
The hermit nation claimed on Saturday that Alek Sigley had spread anti-Pyongyang propaganda by providing photos and other materials to news outlets with critical views toward North Korea.
‘Investigation revealed that at the instigation of the NK News and other anti-DPRK media he handed over several times the data and photos he collected and analysed while combing Pyongyang by making use of the identity card of a foreign student,’ the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
The news agency said the North expelled Mr Sigley out of ‘humanitarian leniency.’
‘He honestly admitted his spying acts of systematically collecting and offering data about the domestic situation of the DPRK and repeatedly asked for pardon, apologising for encroachment upon the sovereignty of the DPRK,’ the agency said.
Mr Sigley, who had been held in North Korea since June 25, was released and arrived in Tokyo on Thursday telling reporters he was in ‘very good’ condition, but without saying what happened to him.
He had been studying at a Pyongyang university and guiding tours in the North Korean capital before disappearing from social media and lost contact with family and friends.
KCNA said Mr Sigley, who was caught ‘red-handed’ by a ‘relevant institution’ of the North on June 25, had abused his status as a student by ‘combing’ through Pyongyang and providing photos and other information to news sites such as NK News and other ‘anti-DPRK’ media, a reference to the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The North had not commented on Mr Sigley before Saturday.
Mr Sigley was released by North Korea following intervention by Swedish diplomats and travelled to Beijing, before he went to Tokyo to reunite with his Japanese wife, who he married in Pyongyang last year.
During his time in North Korea, Mr Sigley often shared details about his life in Pyongyang through social media and the website of his travel agency, Tongil Tours.
He was known to frequently challeng negative outside perceptions about the North and at times boasting about the extraordinary freedom he had as one of the few foreign students living there.
He also wrote op-eds and essays that appeared in the Western media, including NK News, although none of them seemed outwardly critical about the North’s government and political system.
North Korea has been accused in the past of detaining Westerners and using them as political pawns to gain concessions.
Mr Sigley’s father, Gary Sigley, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Western Australia, said his son was treated well in North Korea.
It was a much happier outcome than the case of American college student Otto Warmbier, who was convicted of attempting to steal a propaganda poster and imprisoned in North Korea.
Warmbier died shortly after being sent back home to the U.S. in a vegetative state in June 2017.