Seoul, April 30 2021: After the signing of the Panmunjom Declaration in 2018, between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and the South’s president Moon Jae-In, there was an official halt in the practice of sending leaflets to and fro between the two countries along the Demilitarized Zone dividing the peninsula.
In the past, both the Koreas used to regularly send leaflets with propaganda information across the border but the South Korean parliament has recently passed a law criminalizing the practice of sending leaflets and USB drives and under the measure, violators will face a maximum penalty of 3 years in prison or a $27,000 fine. The law has faced criticism particularly from the US, an ally of the South, over concerns it limits freedom of speech and the country has called it a significant human rights issue. According to the US, the people of North Korea have a right it know their human rights are being taken away from them.
This week, the law was flouted twice when a North Korea defector group flew over the heavily fortified demilitarized zone and dropped 500,000 anti-Pyongyang leaflets, 500 books and $5000 in cash bills contained in 10 large balloons. The launches by the Fighters for a Free North Korea were the first since the law was passed in December.In the past, activists have sent flyers that have infuriated the Kim Jong Un administration against the human rights abuses and nuclear ambitions of the North which then issued a series of condemnations last year demanding action against the leaflets from the South. They further increased pressure on the South by blowing up an inter-Korean liason office on its side of the border.
Fighters for a Free North Korea chairman, Park Sang-hak criticized the South’s “gag” as “the worst law”. In spite of the risk of being caught and penalized, activists and civilian interest groups in the South, mainly led by defectors, continue their activities, raising fears among politicians on both sides of retaliation among locals living along the frontier.
The authority handling inter-Korean relations, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said the law against leaflets was in place for preserving the safety and lives of residents in the border areas and that in response to this latest violation, after establishing facts the body will take appropriate measures in accordance with the spirit of the law.
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