Gov't leaflet defense is pooh-poohed abroad
The government's response to a group of United Nations special rapporteurs criticizing its outlawing of sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border was met with an icy reception.
“The South Korean government has not made a convincing argument that public safety is threatened by leaflets being sent via balloon,” said Robert King, the U.S. State Department’s former special envoy on North Korean human rights, in an interview with Voice of America.
“Incidents along the inter-Korean border are frequent," King continued. "South Korean military officers and United Nations officers are constantly dealing with border incidents, and most of them have nothing to do with balloons and leaflets.”
Phil Robertson, director of Human Rights Watch, issued a short statement on Twitter on the leaflet ban, saying, “It is both ironic and sad that a South Korean [government] headed by a former human rights lawyer is violating human rights of its own people in order to defend the government of North Korea, which is one of the worst human rights abusing regimes in the world.”
The government’s explanation for the leaflet ban came several months after Tomas Ojea Quintana, special rapporteur on North Korea's human rights situation, and three other rapporteurs voiced concerns in a letter that the ban could infringe on "the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression" and "legitimate activities" conducted by nongovernmental organizations in South Korea.
In response to the special rapporteurs' concerns, the South Korean government sent a letter to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) last Friday, according to the office.
In the letter, Seoul argued that the ban only restrains freedom of expression to "the minimum level to protect public safety" and is within the extent of restrictions on speech permitted by international human rights agreements.
The government also claimed that the law was not concerned with restricting speech or ideas, but focused on limiting the use of a specific method – sending leaflets across the border – to express an opinion.
However, at the time of the law’s enactment in late December, the Unification Ministry pointed out problems with the content of the leaflets, calling it “obscene propaganda” and “fake news.”
During the debate over the law in the National Assembly, the bill’s sponsor, ruling Democratic Party lawmaker Song Young-gil, also took issue with illustrations and words in the leaflets, describing them as “insulting to Chairman Kim Jong-un, who is North Korea’s most respected figure.”
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]