Seoul, South Korea – “Is South Korea a dictatorship?” asked Park Sang-hak, a North Korean deserter and Fighters leader for a free North Korea that regularly sends helium balloons laden with pamphlets north across the border. “Is it a free and democratic country?”
Park sent 10 balloons loaded with 500,000 leaflets and 5,000 one-dollar bills to North Korea late last month. He says he wants the North Koreans to know the truth about Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship and the North Koreans to rise up against his regime. The pamphlets criticize the dynastic rule of the Kims. Dollar bills encourage people to pick up brochures.
Park has launched these balloons 60 times in the last ten years or so. The difference now is that it is against the law: South Korean law.
“The exclusive ban is an unconstitutional law of evil,” Park told Al Jazeera.
Park balloon launches have often been occasions of great media assistance.
But in April, he kept the locations of the events a secret and sent balloons from border areas overnight, for fear of being captured by South Korean authorities tasked by the government with reducing its efforts.
On May 6, police raided his office, promising a thorough investigation.
When he appeared at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency four days later to interrogate him, he criticized the liberal government and explained what the propaganda pamphlets were about.
“These are the letters from deserters to our families in North Korea. Letters of truth, freedom and love. And now they don’t even allow us to write letters? “Park said.
The “law against pamphlets”
The launching of balloons with leaflets, CDs, USB and other items in North Korea was banned by a December 2020 amendment to South Korea’s Inter-Korean Relations Development Act.
Park now faces a $ 27,000 fine and three years in prison if convicted.
The Democratic Party and government officials justified the amendment on two charges.
First, that the launches endanger the lives of South Koreans living in the border regions; in 2014, North Korea trained machine guns in bullets with bullets landing in South Korea.
Second, that the pamphlets hinder their efforts to consolidate peace with North Korea.
A la reference summits 2018 between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the two agreed to stop all hostile acts, including the scattering of pamphlets.
But Park Sang-hak continued his activities.
Following the threatening evenings of leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, on balloons in June last year, North Korea blew up the newly created inter-Korean liaison office located right on the border within North Korea. The blast could be seen from the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
Kim Yo Jong also weighed in at the April Park balloon launches.
“We consider the maneuvers committed by human slag to the south as a serious provocation against our state and will examine the corresponding actions, ”she was quoted as saying by the state media.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has made peace building a pillar of his government’s agenda since he was elected in 2017.
May 10 marked his fourth year in office, leaving him last year to somehow encourage the improvement of inter-Korean affairs.
That can only come with the help of the United States, and this week Moon will travel to the White House for a May 21 summit with his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden.
Analysts expect Moon to focus on bringing the US and North Korea back to the negotiating table.
“We will re-establish dialogue between the two Koreas and between the United States and North Korea,” Moon said.
He also responded to criticism of the anti-brochure law.
“It is never desirable to dampen inter-Korean relations in violation of inter-Korean agreements … the government has no choice but to strictly enforce the laws,” he said.
Washington has only just finished recently a review of its policy towards North Korea, emphasizing a greater emphasis on diplomacy.
The recent controversy surrounding Park and his releases may be a spoiler for Moon’s plans.
Following the passage of the law in December, human rights groups criticized the movement. Human Rights Watch argued that activities such as the leaflet were protected under Article 19 of the Declaration of Human Rights and other covenants ratified by South Korea.
But some experts suggest that the unique circumstances of South Korea need to be better appreciated.
“From a foreign perspective, (the law) seems to be an excessive regulation of freedom of expression and expression … but, in the context of the Korean peninsula, it should be accepted in the interests of the intercorean exchange, “Professor Chae Jin-won, a Korean policy expert at Kyung Hee University, told Al Jazeera.
The law and controversy can also affect President Moon’s ability to get the United States to step aside to reach North Korea and create room for the commitment advocated by President Moon.
Last month, U.S. lawmakers convened a special commission to address free speech on the Korean peninsula, with an expressed focus on the “anti-deflect law.”
The same online commission fell into politics: President Moon was authorized in favor of North Korea, restricting the rights of North Korean deserters trying to free the captives from their homeland.
“There is nothing more powerful than North Koreans living in freedom in South Korea to reach North Koreans living under the slavery of the Kim regime,” Suzanne Scholte of the Coalition for the Coalition told the commission. Freedom of North Korea.
Others argued this testimony and the actions of balloon launchers focused more on political purposes.
“Through brochures with journalists gathered, they can promote an image of aggressive human rights defenders for North Koreans and receive funding for their work,” human rights lawyer Jeon Su-mi of the commission told the commission. Society of Conciliation and Peace.
Jeon also suggested that North Koreans have more access to foreign news through border cities, and concluded that “sending brochures does not seem to me to be an effective tool for promoting human rights in North Korea.” .
Going on the radio
Instead of assuming the law as Park Sang-hak, some North Korean desert activists have employed other strategies.
Huh Kwang-il came to South Korea in 1995 after working as a lumberjack in Russia, where he learned more about the South and the outside world. It used to send CDs and USBs to North Korea, but in March the shortwave transmission began.
“Our purpose is to awaken North Koreans and promote their human rights, so that in the end they can claim to be the masters of their own sovereignty,” Huh told Al Jazeera.
Huh also criticized the South Korean president for enforcing a law that restricts his freedom of speech in a way he believes severely impedes the human rights of others and North Korea’s “right to know.”
“By oppressing the North Koreans, this (the South Korean government) becomes more of a dictatorship and eventually the victims are North Koreans,” he said.
Still, the Moon administration has been steadfast in its intention to restrict the activities of North Korean NGOs in the hope of engaging North Korea in the twilight of its mandate.
At his confirmation hearing on May 7, Moon’s last candidate for prime minister reiterated the government’s stance that the leaflets “threaten the security of our people” and are a violation of the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration. .
Fighters for a Free North Korea’s Park has opted to challenge the law as unconstitutional and filed a criminal complaint against Moon.
Huh intends to continue broadcasting.
“This is a mission of the times entrusted to North Korean refugees. You can’t stop, ”Huh said.