More access to information needed in the North, U.S. saysThe U.S. State Department on Tuesday expressed deep concern over the human rights situation in North Korea, vowing to continue efforts to allow residents in the regime to access independent information from abroad.
The statement provided by the department to Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Wednesday appeared to be a response to a news report suggesting that South Korea’s Ministry of Unification could consider restricting civic groups from making radio broadcasts into North Korea.
NK News, an online news outlet focused on North Korea issues, reported Tuesday it had asked Lee Jong-joo, the ministry’s director of humanitarian exchanges with the North, whether Seoul could restrict radio broadcasts should Pyongyang complain about them, as it did to the dispatch of propaganda leaflets across the border by activists in the South.
Lee, who was leading a tour for foreign press around locations the leaflets were sent north from Ganghwa Island, said she could neither confirm nor deny that possibility, according to NK News.
According to RFA, the State Department responded to the remarks by noting its commitment to working “with the international community to raise awareness, increase access to independent information and promote respect for human rights” in North Korea.
The Unification Ministry on Wednesday said it began inspecting 25 government-registered civic groups related to North Korea to verify whether they actually operate in accordance with their declared purposes.
According to Ministry spokesman Yoh Sang-key, the probes will be widened to cover organizations conducting social and cultural exchanges with the North, warning that if violations are found, “appropriate [legal] measures” will follow.
The move follows the ministry’s decision last month to revoke the operational licenses of two civic groups accused of sending propaganda leaflets across the border into the North without permission.
The leaflets sent by the two two groups — Fighters for a Free North Korea and Kuen Saem — were cited by North Korea as a rationale behind its unilateral demolition of an inter-Korean liaison office in its border city of Kaesong in June.
Shocked by the North’s visceral response, Seoul responded by ramping up measures to rein in civic groups in the South responsible for a variety of attempts to subvert the regime in the North, arguing that such activities endanger the safety of South Koreans living near the border.
But this in turn has prompted criticism from a growing number of voices from abroad, including former U.S. officials and human rights groups.
Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on the state of human rights in North Korea, last month also expressed concern with the inspections.
Robert King, the former U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, and Phil Robertson, the head of the Asia Division of the NGO Human Rights Watch, were among those to publicly speak out against South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration for what they called attempts to suppress free expression by those groups.
The leaders of about 30 groups run by North Korean defectors in the South gathered in Seoul on Tuesday to form a committee to fight the Unification Ministry’s decision.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]