Rights Groups Protest Anti-North Korean Leaflet Law at National Assembly in Seoul

Activist calls on President Moon Jae-in to veto bill to protect South Korea’s constitution.
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Rights Groups Protest Anti-North Korean Leaflet Law at National Assembly in Seoul A balloon containing leaflets denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seen near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, in a file photo.

Human rights groups rallied Tuesday at South Korea’s National Assembly to protest over a recently passed bill that would outlaw sending anti-regime leaflets by balloon into North Korea, a ban they say violates South Korea’s constitution.

Civic groups and advocates for North Korean human rights have for decades been sending large helium balloons loaded with rice, cash, USB flash drives containing media from the outside world, and leaflets criticizing Pyongyang authorities.

North Korea erupted in anger this past summer, cutting off all communication with the South and destroying a Seoul-funded joint Korean liaison office inside North Korea in response to one such leaflet campaign.

South Korea has issued temporary bans on the leaflet balloons during times of heightened tensions with the North, but the new law, which passed in the assembly Dec. 14, bans the cross-border launches outright.

Critics say this bid by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to remove an irritant in bilateral ties violates hard-won freedom of speech and gives North Korea a veto on what its critics in the South can say.

Lee Min-bok, an escapee from North Korea who leads one of the balloon-launching civic groups, told RFA that getting outside information into North Korea was of the utmost importance.

“I decided to escape North Korea after seeing the leaflets,” he said.

“I learned the truth of the Korean War through leaflets from South Korea. So that is why I escaped from North Korea. We must inform them that it was not South Korea and the U.S. that started the war as the North Korean regime claims.” said Lee.

One attendee at Tuesday’s rally told RFA’s Korean Service that the law makes South Korea look bad in the eyes of the rest of the world.

“The international community is also expressing concerns about the law banning anti-North Korean leaflets. President Moon Jae-in, who is responsible for defending the constitution, can exercise his veto power over unconstitutional laws,” said Kim Tae Hoon, a representative of Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea (LHUK).

“It is more important for North Koreans to have the freedom to hear and see whatever they want than it is for them to be able to eat what they want,” said Kim.

The president of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Carl Gershman, said his Washington-based agency supports “civil society groups that make accurate and up-to-date information available to the people of North Korea” but has not funded leaflet campaigns.

“True dialogue requires freedom of expression and freedom of information in North Korea, and civil society groups in South Korea that promote such freedoms should be praised for their efforts, not penalized,” Gershman said.

A U.S. Department of State spokesperson, without mentioning the new law specifically, told RFA “we continue to campaign for the free flow of information into the DPRK.”

Reported by Yong Jae Mok and Jeongeun Ji for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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