Rights group denounces attempts to halt leaflets

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Rights group denounces attempts to halt leaflets

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea is set to issue a statement calling on the local government to refrain from cracking down or banning civic groups from dispatching propaganda leaflets across the border to North Korea, sources from the watchdog said Monday.

Propaganda leaflets refer to the waterproof papers critical of North Korea’s ruling Kim dynasty, which are launched inside balloons near the inter-Korean border by local civic groups, most of them led by North Korean defectors. Some millions of flyers are sent every year.

The North has condemned the leaflets, and fired shots at the balloons last year, calling them “a most disguised act of psychological warfare” and a violation of the armistice.

Authorities here have attempted in vain to block the launches to protect residents living near the border.

One insider who asked for anonymity said the human rights group decided in a meeting on Jan. 26 that “blocking someone from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets is a violation of the right to freedom of speech,” and that the group would make a relevant announcement later this month.

Among the group’s 11 standing committee members, eight approved that stance, two opposed and one abstained. The source also quoted parts of their written proclamation, adding that disseminating anti-North flyers should be protected under the freedom of speech, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Current law stipulates that freedom of speech can be restricted only in the existence of a “clear and present danger.”

North Korea’s threats to physically attack South Korea defy the UDHR and ICCPR, as well as conflict with international law and international human rights norms.

And for the South to play along with the North’s “unreasonable requests” to deter its people from disseminating the leaflets shows that the country is infringing on its own human rights, the source read from the proclamation.

Jang Myeong-suk, one of the two committee members who disapproved, put more weight on the security of those living closest to the North, where the balloons are released, saying that their lives, rather than freedom of speech, matter more to the public good. Jang continued that the human rights watchdog has “failed its obligation to protect people’s basic human rights” by telling the government not to take preventive measures against danger from North Korea.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [selee@joongang.co.kr]

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