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Alek Sigley, a 29-year-old Australian Master’s student at Kim Il Sung University in North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang, is believed to be detained in North Korea, according to media reports from South Korea and Japan.
A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed to Business Insider Australia on Thursday morning that it was "providing consular assistance … to the family of an Australian man who has been reported as being detained in North Korea."
"The Department is urgently seeking clarification," the spokesperson said.
Sigley, who grew up in Perth, Australia is a long-term foreign resident on a student visa, according to an op-ed he penned for the Guardian last year. He claimed to be the "only Australian in North Korea," and his friends reported him missing earlier this week, the Australian Broadcasting Company reported.
A spokesperson for Sigley’s family said in a statement that as of 1 p.m. Australian time Alek’s detention has not been confirmed.
"The situation is that Alek has not been in digital contact with friends and family since Tuesday morning Australian time, which is unusual," it read. "Australia’s Department of Homeland Affairs and Trade are therefore seeking to confirm his whereabouts and welfare."
"Alek’s family hopes to re-establish contact with him soon."
North Korea has limited diplomatic relations with Australia, and neither country has an official diplomatic presence in the other country. Alek’s case brings to mind the case of Otto Warmbier, a US college student who was detained in North Korea in 2016 and later died under mysterious circumstances.
Here’s everything we know about Alek Sigley:
Sigley has studied at several universities around the world and speaks several languages.
According to his Facebook page, Sigley studied Asian Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, a top international university on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan, from 2008-2009.
He then moved to China to study Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University until 2010. Upon completion of his studies, he began a 3-year program at Fudan University in Shanghai where he studied philosophy.
It appears Sigley also studied Korean studied at Sogang University, a liberal arts university in Seoul, South Korea, from 2015 to 2017, and studied philosophy at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia’s capital, until 2018.
Sigley’s Facebook says he took short-term Korean lessons at Kim Hyong Jik University in Pyongyang in 2016 and is currently studying at Kim Il-sung University in North Korea’s capital, the alma mater of many of North Korea’s elite including leader Kim Jong Un.
According to an interview Sigley did with American public radio organization PRI, his thesis at North Korea’s top university will be on romance in North Korean literature. He said it was difficult to get into the university and said his established "connections" inside country deemed him "trustworthy."
"There’s not really an open application process. The university has a website but, if you go there, you won’t find any information whatsoever on how to apply," he said in the interview.
"But if you’ve already started a business and made connections, then it becomes possible. They have to decide you’re trustworthy."
He also ran a tour company.
Sigley founded and ran an educational tour company called Tongil Tours, according to his Twitter page, which held tours in North Korea and Northeast Asia.
According to the tour’s website, the company "empowers university students, life-long learners, and inquisitive people everywhere to examine the world in which they live through meaningful learning tours to North Korea, Asia, and beyond." It also provides travel information to foreigners looking to come to North Korea.
He got married in Pyongyang to a Japanese woman named Yuka.
Sigley married wife Yu ka on May 4, 2018, in Pyongyang, according to a post on his tour’s website.
He also penned an opinion piece in the Independent Australian titled "Dear President Trump, please don’t bomb my wedding in North Korea" in which he provided more details on the nuptials and addressed US President Donald Trump and asked him "to hold off the nuclear bombing of North Korea for his wedding, then consider making peace with Kim Jong Un."
Sigley met his wife, who hails from Hiroshima, Japan, in 2011, according to the article. He also revealed that he is of Chinese-Australian descent.
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