South Korea bans leaflets towards the north; Defector Says He Will Not Cease From Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A balloon with leaflets denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seen near the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea

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From Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Monday banned the launch of propaganda leaflets into North Korea and expressed criticism of human rights activists and defiance from a prominent North Korean defector who said he would not stop sending messages to his home country.

Defectors and other activists in South Korea have been sending anti-North Korean leaflets across the heavily guarded border for decades, usually in a balloon or in bottles along border rivers. They also broadcast groceries, medicines, money, mini radios, and USB sticks with South Korean news and drama.

Isolated North Korea has long denounced the practice and recently stepped up its condemnation to alert a South Korean government seeking to improve relations on the divided peninsula.

The South Korean parliament on Monday approved an amendment to the law on the development of inter-Korean relations to prevent any leakage of printed matter, goods, money and other valuables across the heavily fortified border.

It also restricts the propaganda broadcasts from loudspeakers, which the southern military once campaigned as part of psychological warfare against the north until it withdrew equipment after a summit between the two Koreas in 2018.

The ban will go into effect in three months and violations will result in up to three years in prison or a fine of 30 million won (US $ 27,400).

The change was approved despite efforts by opposition lawmakers to block the majority of President Moon Jae-in’s ruling party, who wants to improve cross-border relations.

CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGE

The bill was introduced in June after Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said South Korea should ban the leaflets or face the “worst phase” of relations.

“They are trying to put Kim Yo Jong’s orders into law with their only word,” said Tae Yong-ho, an opposition lawmaker and former North Korean diplomat, in a 10-hour filibuster speech, adding that the bill would only help Kim’s government continue to “enslave” his people.

Park Sang-hak, a defector who has already had his license stripped of his leaflet launch group and is pending criminal investigation, said he will not give up his 15-year campaign.

“I will keep sending out leaflets to tell the truth because North Koreans have a right to know,” he told Reuters. “I am not afraid of being locked up”.

Park and several other 20 rights groups in South Korea vowed to question the constitutionality of the law, while Human Rights Watch described the ban as a “misguided strategy” by South Korea to win Kim’s favor.

“It criminalizes sending remittances to families in North Korea and denies them the right to external information,” said Shin Hee-seok of the Transitional Justice Task Force.

“Such appeasement efforts only risk inviting further North Korean provocations and demands.”

Chris Smith, a US Republican congressman who chairs a bipartisan human rights commission, issued a statement criticizing the amendment as “poorly thought out, scary” to facilitate detaining people for easy information sharing.

When asked about Smith’s testimony, the South Korean Unification Department, which governs relations with North Korea, said the bill was a “minimal effort to protect the lives and safety of those living in border areas.”

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