A South Korean yesterday said that he had launched 500,000 propaganda leaflets by balloon into North Korea this week in defiance of a contentious new law that criminalizes such actions.
If confirmed, Park Sang-hak’s action would be the first known breach of the law that punishes anti-Pyongyang leafleting with up to three years in prison or a fine of 30 million won (US$26,951).
The law that took effect last month has invited criticism that South Korea is sacrificing freedom of expression to improve ties with North Korea, which has repeatedly protested the leafleting.
Police stations in Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces said they could not immediately confirm if Park sent balloons from their areas, from where Park said he had performed two launches.
South Korean Ministry of Unification deputy spokesman Cha Duck-chul said that the government would handle the case in line with the objective of the law, although authorities were still working to confirm Park’s statement.
Park said his organization floated 10 huge balloons carrying the leaflets, 500 booklets critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and 5,000 banknotes from sites near the border with North Korea.
He would not disclose the exact locations in the two border provinces, citing worries police would stop future attempts.
“Though [authorities] can handcuff and put me in a prison cell, they cannot stop [my leafleting] with whatever threats or violence as long as the North Korean people waits for the letters of freedom, truth and hope,” said Park, a North Korean defector known for his leafleting campaigns.
Park called the new legislation “the worst law” that “sides with cruel human rights abuser Kim Jong-un, and covers the eyes and ears of the North Korean people that have become the modern-day slaves of the Kim dynasty.”
Video released by Park showed him releasing a balloon standing with a sign that reads: “The world condemns Kim Jong-un, who is crazy for nuclear and rocket provocations.”
The legislation was fiercely debated during a videoconference hearing called by US lawmakers this month, where critics denounced it as an attack on democratic freedoms and efforts to break North Korea’s information blockade.
Proponents of the law criticized what they called extremely aggressive language in leaflets, arguing flying such materials would unnecessarily provoke North Korea and endanger the safety of South Korean residents near the border.
“What I really think is extremely alarming is a retreat by the South Korean government from its longstanding commitment to human rights vis-a-vis North Korea and China, ostensibly in the cause of fostering better relations or achieving nuclear nonproliferation,” US Representative Chris Smith said at the hearing.
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