Questions remain after North Korea frees Australian student

An Australian student in North Korea freed from detention arrived in Japan late on Thursday to meet his wife after landing in Beijing earlier in the day, reports say.

Alek Sigley, 29, told journalists at Beijing airport that he was “OK” and feeling “great” after his release.

However, he remained silent when asked what led to his one-week detention in North Korea.

Sigley and Swedish envoy Kent Rolf Magnus Harstedt, who accompanied him, were greeted at the airport by Australian diplomats who ushered them into a waiting embassy vehicle.

Earlier, announcing the news of Sigley’s release in parliament, Australian Prime Minster Scott Morrison assured lawmakers that the student is “safe and well” and about to land at Beijing airport.

Morrison profusely thanked Swedish authorities for negotiating Sigley’s release with North Korean officials on Autralia’s behalf.

Australia has no embassy in North Korea and it sought the help of the Swedish Government, which has a mission in Pyongyang, above, to provide consular assistance to Sigley.

Morrison said the positive result in the student’s case proves the value of discreet, behind-the-scenes work of officials in resolving complex cases between governments.

Sigley will first meet his Japanese wife Yuka Morinaga whom he married in Pyongyang last year. It is not clear when he will be heading to Australia.

Sigley’s father Gary Singley said from his home in Perth that his son is in good spirits and being treated well.

Gary thanked the department of foreign affairs and trade and all officials who worked behind the scenes to secure his son’s release.

Gary said he does not know anything about the circumstances that led to his son’s detention.

The news of Sigley’s arrest was first reported by the South Korean media on Wednesday last week.

His family and friends became alarmed when his social media accounts fell silent.

While details are not forthcoming about what led to Sigley’s detention, his articles in western media seem to have irked North Korea’s security agencies although the pieces gave a very positive picture of the communist country.

Sigley, probably the lone Australian living in North Korea, was studying literature at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang.

He also ran an Australia-based company which conducted learning tours to North Korea and the rest of Asia.

Sigley’s early release is seen as a rare gesture by a country that jails foreign suspects as a bargaining chip for “criminal acts” against the state.

Another student from the US, Otto Warmbier, was not lucky like Sigley.

Warmbier had entered North Korea with a tour group in 2015. He was jailed for 15 years for stealing a propaganda poster from his tourist hotel.

Warmbier was freed by North Korea in a comatose state and he died in 2017.