Efforts to ban leaflets face political resistance
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.
“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.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [email@example.com]
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