South Korean activist Park Sang-hak sends anti-Pyongyang leaflets to North again

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SEOUL — An activist group in South Korea said Thursday it had launched one million propaganda leaflets into North Korea by balloon this week, defying a law criminalizing such acts.

Fighters for a Free North Korea, a defector-led group, said it launched 20 balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border earlier this week, breaking the controversial ban the group calls an “unjust law that violates freedom of speech”.

South Korea’s outgoing liberal government passed the law in 2020, despite criticism that it prioritized improving ties with the North over defending human rights.

South Korea to criminalize sending leaflets to North Korea, bowing to regime

The law makes it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison to send promotional brochures and storage devices such as USB drives, cash and other valuables to the North without government permission. from Seoul.

The leader of the group, Park Sang-hak, became the first person to be charged under the law for his past leafleting activities and is currently on trial. Park said he would challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.

After a year-long hiatus amid police investigations and trials, Park resumed the leaflet campaign on Monday, saying he would “happily accept jail time” for his “virtuous acts.” He fled North Korea in 2000 to settle in the democratic South and has been leading leafleting campaigns since 2004.

Leaflets released this week slam North Korea’s nuclear and missile developments, which Pyongyang promoted at a high-profile military parade on Wednesday as a “threat to humanity”. A photo of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol was included in the leaflets to promote democracy and denounce the dynastic dictatorship of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the group said.

The crackdown on the leaflets will likely be challenged by Yoon’s new conservative government. Kwon Young-se, appointed Seoul’s unification minister to lead inter-Korean affairs, said it was “constitutionally problematic” to ban such leaflet campaigns in a democratic country.

Outgoing government officials said the law prevented unnecessary North Korean provocations and protected South Korean residents in the border area. Frontline residents have long complained about militant propaganda efforts, citing North Korean threats of “targeted fire” that prompted leaflets.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Thursday it was working with authorities to confirm whether the group had in fact released the leaflets and said it would properly enforce the law to protect the safety of residents along the border.

For years, defectors and activist groups have sent printed materials and USB drives containing South Korean news, movies and dramas to North Korea in the hope that ordinary residents there would take them. and learn about the oppression imposed by the totalitarian regime and the relative poverty in their country. country. Materials shipped across the border often include aid such as rice, medicine and dollar bills.

North Korea’s totalitarian regime is extremely sensitive to propaganda efforts by outside activists to erode the country’s information blockade. He blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on his territory in 2020 after Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of the North Korean leader, lambasted the leafters and threatened retaliation.

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