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North Korea accuses freed Australian student of spying, spreading propaganda

Pyongyang's news agency reported Saturday that Alek Sigley was freed after pleading for forgiveness for his activities.
Alek Sigley, an Australian student who was detained in North Korea, waves while holding his passport and flight ticket as he walks for his departure at the Beijing International airport on July 4, 2019.NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP - Getty Images

North Korea claimed Saturday that an Australian student who was released by the country after being detained for a week had spread anti-Pyongyang propaganda and engaged in espionage.

The country's official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, said Alek Sigley provided photos and other materials to news outlets with critical views toward the North, which the agency said infringed on the country's sovereignty.

Sigley was deported on Thursday after he pleaded for forgiveness over his activities, the agency said.

Sigley arrived in Tokyo on Thursday after telling reporters he was in "very good" condition, 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 contact with family and friends.

KCNA said Sigley 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 news agency said the North expelled Sigley out of "humanitarian leniency."

Sigley was released by North Korea following intervention by Swedish diplomats. After Sigley's arrival in Beijing, he went to Tokyo to reunite with his wife, who is Japanese.

North Korea has been accused in the past of detaining Westerners and using them as political pawns to gain concessions.

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.