Australian student detained in North Korea 'released, safe'

SYDNEY, Australia (UPDATED) – A 29-year-old Australian student detained in North Korea has been released and is "safe and well", Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament on Thursday, July 4, ending a weeklong ordeal for his family.

Alek Sigley -- one of a handful of Westerners living and studying in Pyongyang -- disappeared without a trace around June 23, prompting concerns about his fate.

For days his family received no word about his whereabouts or wellbeing, stoking fears he may be the latest in a long line of foreigners to be tangled up in North Korea's police state.

Then, with little warning, Morrison on Thursday told lawmakers that Sigley had "been released from detention in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea" and that "he is safe and well".

His detention came just days before a landmark meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, fuelling speculation that his detention may have been politically motivated.

Sigley ran a number of social media sites, which usually had a stream of apolitical content about everyday life in one of the world's most secretive nations.

"He is always trying to demystify North Korea, unlike the typical Western media. He tries to understand the people there," his 26-year-old wife Yuka Morinaga had said.

The case was complicated by Australia's lack of diplomatic representation in North Korea, Australia's interests there are instead represented by Sweden.

Swedish special envoy Kent Harstedt had travelled to Pyongyang where he raised the issue with North Korean authorities.

"I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Swedish authorities for their invaluable assistance in securing Alek's prompt release," Morrison said, hailing it as a triumph of "behind the scenes" diplomacy.

Sigley is believed to be travelling from China to Japan, where his wife lives.  –