Efforts to ban leaflets face political resistance

Home > National > North Korea

print dictionary print

Efforts to ban leaflets face political resistance

A North Korean defector group in South Korea prepares to float balloons carrying propaganda leaflets and other items into North Korea in 2016. Such acts have been carried out regularly by activist groups.

A North Korean defector group in South Korea prepares to float balloons carrying propaganda leaflets and other items into North Korea in 2016. Such acts have been carried out regularly by activist groups.

South Korea’s central and local governments continue to take steps to ban the distribution of propaganda leaflets into the North, despite domestic and international criticism that the decision is meant to appease an irate Pyongyang.  

 
Gyeonggi’s provincial government announced Friday it would designate all areas close to the border to North Korea as a “danger zone” and arrest any person who attempts to float propaganda.

 
In a press conference at the provincial office headquarters in Suwon, Gyeonggi, Vice Governor for Peace Lee Jae-gang said sending unauthorized pamphlets and other materials to the North at the border went beyond just an expression of freedom and represented a “highly dangerous act that provokes military collision.”

 
Leaflets sent via balloons will warrant fines in violation of outdoor advertising laws, while those sent through plastic bottles floated through the waterways separating South and North will be regarded as violations of the Maritime Waste Control Act, Lee said.  
 
Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, the South’s top inter-Korean agency, said last week it had pressed charges against two activist organizations in the South, Fighters for a Free North Korea and Keun Saem, for violating the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act, a day after Pyongyang vowed to cut off all inter-Korean communication lines.  

 
The two civic groups run by North Korean defectors to the South dispatched balloons containing thousands of propaganda leaflets, books, memory sticks and $1 bills across the border into the North on May 31. In April, the groups sent leaflets announcing that two defectors, Ji Sung-ho and former diplomat Thae Yong-ho, were elected lawmakers in South Korea's April 15 general elections.  

 
On Thursday, the ministry said it had filed criminal complaints with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency against the two groups and that it informed them of plans to open hearings to revoke their government-issued permits to operate as civic organizations.  

 
The Blue House released its first official statement on the leaflet ban on Thursday, expressing “deep regret” with the unauthorized acts, which it said it would “strictly control” in the future.  
 
The move to crack down on the leaflets however did little to mollify Pyongyang. On Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, released a statement slamming the South for taking belated action against the leaflets, which she said “hurt the absolute prestige of our Supreme Leader representing our country and its great dignity.”

 
The defector groups strongly protested Seoul’s decision, saying they would continue to send the fliers North in spite of the ban. Park Sang-hak, the head of Fighters for a Free North Korea, said in a press conference at the National Assembly organized by the conservative United Future Party (UFP) that the Unification Ministry was a “traitorous” organization that was kowtowing to the North’s communist government.  
 
Park Sang-hak, the head of Fighters for a Free North Korea, third from right, holds up propaganda leaflets his group sent to the North during a press conference with United Future Party lawmakers expressing opposition to a legal ban on the leaflets held at the National Assembly June 8. [YONHAP]

Park Sang-hak, the head of Fighters for a Free North Korea, third from right, holds up propaganda leaflets his group sent to the North during a press conference with United Future Party lawmakers expressing opposition to a legal ban on the leaflets held at the National Assembly June 8. [YONHAP]

Rep. Joo Ho-young, the floor leader of the UFP, also slammed the decision on his Facebook page on Sunday, saying the Moon Jae-in administration’s actions to crack down on the leaflets would do little to please the North.  

 
“Kim Jong-un experienced the reality that the Moon Jae-in administration is incapable of relieving sanctions on the North independently from the United States and the international community,” Joo wrote. “General Secretary Kim Jong-un and First Vice Department Chief Kim Yo-jong are shouting at President Moon to fulfill any one of the promises [South Korea] made.”

 
Supporters of the government’s decision say the leaflets represent a threat to the safety of South Korean citizens living in border regions, as the insulting content of the fliers could provoke military retaliation from the North.  
 
Particularly controversial were allegations that defector groups attempted to include objects contaminated with the novel coronavirus in the leaflets in an attempt to spread infections to the North, whose health care system is ill-equipped to deal with Covid-19. A post on an online forum used by North Korean defectors from March said a group was willing to purchase items used by coronavirus patients in order to send to the North in order to incapacitate its regime.  
 
Labor unions on Saturday call for a cessation to the floating of propaganda leaflets into the North by defector groups at a demonstration in central Seoul. [YONHAP]

Labor unions on Saturday call for a cessation to the floating of propaganda leaflets into the North by defector groups at a demonstration in central Seoul. [YONHAP]

Former Representative Park Jie-won, an ally of the ruling Democratic Party, used the allegations to call the leaflet spreading a “inhuman act” last week. Rep. Ji Seong-ho of the UFP, himself a defector from the North, protested Park’s accusation, saying the leaflet distribution was a humanitarian act meant to spread information into the North.  

 
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK   [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

More in North Korea

North Korea blasts Pompeo for South China Sea remarks

North signals openness to working with new unification officials

Leader's sister again nixes any summit with Trump

Biegun says he's ready to talk to Pyongyang

In Seoul, Biegun says U.S. supports inter-Korean efforts

Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)

What’s Popular Now