Defector denounces raid for dispatching balloons to North
Police on Thursday raided the office of Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector who claimed his organization dispatched anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets from near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into the North in defiance of a ban.
Park, head of Fighters for a Free North Korea, an organization of North Korean defectors that is critical of the North Korean regime, said the organization sent 10 large balloons carrying around 500,000 leaflets and $5,000 in U.S. dollar bills between April 25 and 29.
If confirmed, Park's group would be the first to defy a controversial law banning such activities that came into effect in March.
“We are currently searching relevant locations,” said an official with the Seoul Metropolitan Police who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We will conduct a swift and strict investigation.”
A lawyer for Park told the JoongAng Ilbo in a phone interview Thursday that the law violated Park’s basic rights.
“Park submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court in December about the law before it came into effect, and this situation arose because the court did not reach a decision quickly enough,” the lawyer said.
An amendment to the Development of the Inter-Korean Relations Act, which the ruling Democratic Party (DP) passed in the National Assembly in December over a boycott by the opposition People Power Party (PPP), imposes fines of up to 30 million won ($27,000) and jail terms of up to three years for sending leaflets, USB sticks, Bible excerpts, and money across the 38th parallel into North Korea via balloons.
Speaking to reporters in front of his office after the police raid, Park vowed to continue sending propaganda into the North.
“The international community and all of humanity denounces the ban on sending leaflets into North Korea,” Park declared. "Even if we receive a three-year, 30-year prison term or capital punishment by hanging, we will continue sending information and the truth to our 20 million starving compatriots in the North."
In response to criticism that the law curbed freedom of expression, then-Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha defended the amendment in a December interview with CNN, arguing that leaflets sent over the DMZ “endanger the safety of people living in border regions.”
“Freedom of expression, I think, is absolutely vital to human rights, but it's not absolute. It can be limited,” she said.
PPP National Assembly Rep. Thae Yong-ho, who was deputy chief of mission at the North Korean embassy in London before defecting to the South, said the revision to the law “aimed at joining hands with Kim Jong-un and leaving North Koreans enslaved” in a speech attempting to delay the amendment’s passage in December.
The DP railroaded the amendment through the National Assembly six months after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong denounced North Korean defectors involved in sending propaganda balloons as “mongrel dogs,” and demanded the South halt the activities.
Kim again on Sunday accused the South Korean government of neglect for failing to stop the North Korean defector’s behavior and warned that the South Korean government would be held responsible.
National Police Agency Commissioner General Kim Chang-ryong urged a swift and thorough investigation into possible violations of the leaflet ban on the same day.
Fighters for a Free North Korea, which is at the center of the police investigation for its propaganda activities, has launched balloons more than 60 times since the Ministry of Unification began keeping count of such activities in 2010.
BY KIM JI-HYE, MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]