Missing Perth man Alek Sigley could have been temporarily silenced as a “normal practice” ahead of US President Donald Trump’s expected visit to North Korea, says a North Korea specialist and friend of the 29-year-old blogger.
Mr Sigley, a student and tour guide in North Korea, is usually very active on social media, posting regularly and openly about his life as the only Australian living in the secretive dictatorship.
The fluent Korean speaker has not been in contact with friends and family since Tuesday morning (AEST), though his Skype account is still active.
In a strange twist, Japanese media reported on Friday that a second man, Kenji Fujimoto, has also disappeared in North Korea.
Mr Fujimoto was the former sushi chef of Kim Jong-Un’s father.
As of 11am on Friday, Australian officials had made no progress in their quest to find Mr Sigley, despite making urgent enquiries to North Korea with the help of Sweden.
The student’s family released a statement on Friday saying they had still not heard from him, and that they had consented to shutting down his social media channels in an effort to quell “unnecessary speculation”.
“He remains out of digital contact with friends and family,” the statement reads.
A range of theories have emerged about Mr Sigley’s whereabouts.
Some say the student has been arrested and is being held prisoner by Kim Jong-Un’s ruthless regime, while others including Mr Sigley’s friend Dr Leonid Petrov have suggested Pyongyang is imposing a relatively harmless media blackout amid heightened political tensions.
Dr Petrov, a North Korea lecturer at the Australian National University, said Mr Trump’s impending visit to the demilitarised zone that separates North and South Korea was probably linked to his friend’s sudden silence.
“Foreigners, when they have a high profile in North Korea, may be screened and also potentially they may be asked not be in contact with the rest of the world when something significant is happening in Korea,” Dr Petrov told the ABC.
He said it was possible Mr Sigley would re-emerge once the G20 was over and Mr Trump had left the Korean peninsula.
“I don’t think there is any danger to his wellbeing,” Dr Petrov said.
“Perhaps he is being deliberately cut off from means of communication. It is a normal practice.”
“I think it was quite a reckless move on Alek’s part to start publishing articles on the NK News platform, which is known for its hostile attitude to North Korea,” Dr Petrov told news.com.au.
“It’s not that the contents of his articles were critical, in fact it doesn’t matter what the content was at all, it’s the association with the platform, which is run by North Korean defectors.”
Speaking from the G20 summit in Osaka, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Japan and other nations have expressed concern for Mr Sigley.
“The expression of support and assistance that have come from other nations I’ve met with while I’ve been here is very welcome,” Mr Morrison said.
“We’ll continue to focus very sharply on that, and seek to clarify what exactly has occurred and then take steps from there.”