Seoul, South Korea – “Is South Korea a dictatorship?” requested Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector and chief of Fighters for a Free North Korea who repeatedly sends helium balloons laden with leaflets in regards to the North throughout the border. “Is it a free and democratic nation?”
Park despatched 10 balloons loaded with 500,000 leaflets and 5,000 one-dollar payments to North Korea on the finish of final month. He says he desires North Koreans to know the reality in regards to the Kim Jong Un dictatorship and for North Koreans to stand up towards his regime. The leaflets criticise the Kims’s dynastic rule. The greenback payments encourage individuals to choose up the leaflets.
Park has launched such balloons 60 occasions over the previous 10 years or so. The distinction now could be that it’s towards the legislation – South Korean legislation.
“The unique ban is an anti-constitutional evil legislation,” Park advised Al Jazeera.
Park’s balloon launches have typically been well-attended media events.
However in April he saved the places of the occasions secret and despatched off the balloons from the border areas in the dark, for worry of being apprehended by South Korean authorities tasked by the federal government with curbing his efforts.
On Might 6, police raided his workplace, promising a radical investigation.
When he appeared on the Seoul Metropolitan Police Company for questioning 4 days later, he lambasted the liberal authorities and defined what the propaganda leaflets have been about.
“These are the defectors’ letters to our households in North Korea. Letters of fact, freedom and love. And now we aren’t even allowed to write down letters?” Park stated.
The ‘anti-leaflet legislation’
The launching of balloons carrying leaflets, CDs, USBs and different objects into North Korea was banned by a December 2020 modification to South Korea’s Growth of Inter-Korean Relations Act.
Park now faces a $27,000 superb and three years in jail if he’s discovered responsible.
The Democratic Social gathering and authorities officers justified the modification on two counts.
Firstly, that the launches endanger the lives of South Koreans residing within the border areas – in 2014, North Korea skilled machine weapons on the leaflets with bullets touchdown in South Korea.
Secondly, that the leaflets hinder their efforts at peacebuilding with North Korea.
Within the landmark 2018 summits between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean chief Kim Jong Un the 2 agreed to cease all hostile acts, together with the scattering of leaflets.
However Park Sang-hak continued his actions.
Following veiled threats from chief Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, over the balloons, in June final 12 months, North Korea blew up the recently established inter-Korean liaison office located just across the border inside North Korea. The explosion may very well be seen from the South Korean facet of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
Kim Yo Jong additionally weighed in following Park’s April balloon launches.
“We regard the manoeuvres dedicated by the human scum in the South as a severe provocation towards our state and can look into corresponding motion,” she was quoted as saying in state media.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has made peacebuilding a pillar of his authorities’s agenda since he was first elected in 2017.
On Might 10, he marked his fourth 12 months in workplace, leaving him one final 12 months to by some means foster enchancment in inter-Korean affairs.
That may solely include the help of america, and this week Moon will journey to the White Home for a Might 21 summit together with his US counterpart, Joe Biden.
Analysts anticipate Moon to deal with bringing the US and North Korea again to the negotiating desk.
“We are going to restore dialogue between the 2 Koreas and between america and North Korea,” Moon stated.
He additionally responded to criticism in regards to the anti-leafleting legislation.
“It’s by no means fascinating to dampen inter-Korean relations by violating inter-Korean agreements … the federal government has no alternative however to strictly implement the legal guidelines,” he stated.
Washington solely just lately accomplished a review of its policy towards North Korea, outlining larger emphasis on diplomacy.
The current controversy surrounding Park and his launches might present one thing of a spoiler for Moon’s plans.
Following the December passage of the legislation, human rights teams heaped criticism on the transfer. Human Rights Watch argued actions similar to leafletting have been protected underneath Article 19 of the Declaration of Human Rights and different covenants ratified by South Korea.
However some consultants recommend there must be a greater appreciation of South Korea’s distinctive circumstances.
“From a international perspective, (the legislation) appears like over-regulation of freedom of speech and expression … however within the context of the Korean peninsula, it must be accepted within the pursuits of inter-Korean change,” Professor Chae Jin-won an skilled in Korean politics at Kyung Hee College, advised Al Jazeera.
The legislation and controversy may additionally have an effect on President Moon’s potential to get the US on facet in reaching out to North Korea and producing house for the compromise President Moon advocates.
Final month, US legislators convened a particular fee to handle freedom of expression on the Korean Peninsula, with an expressed deal with the “anti-leaflet legislation”.
The net fee itself descended into politicking – with President Moon forged as a pro-North Korea authoritarian, proscribing the rights of North Korean defectors making an attempt to free captives of their homeland.
“There may be nothing extra highly effective than North Koreans residing in freedom in South Korea reaching out to North Koreans residing underneath the enslavement of the Kim regime,” Suzanne Scholte of the North Korean Freedom Coalition, advised the fee.
Others argued such testimony and the actions of the balloon launchers themselves have been extra centered on political ends.
“By floating the leaflets with reporters gathered round, they’ll promote a picture as aggressive human rights defenders for North Koreans and obtain funding for his or her work,” human rights lawyer Jeon Su-mi of the Conciliation and Peace Society, advised the fee.
Jeon additionally advised North Koreans produce other entry to information from the surface by border cities, concluding, “sending leaflets doesn’t strike me as an efficient software to advertise human rights inside North Korea”.
Turning to radio
Fairly than tackle the legislation like Park Sang-hak, some North Korean defector activists have employed different methods.
Huh Kwang-il got here to South Korea in 1995 after working as a lumberjack in Russia, the place he realized extra in regards to the South and the surface world. He used to ship CDs and USBs into North Korea, however in March started shortwave broadcasting.
“Our goal is to awaken the North Koreans and promote their human rights, in order that in the long run they’ll assert that they’re the masters of their very own sovereignty,” Huh advised Al Jazeera.
Huh additionally criticised the South Korean president for implementing a legislation that restricts his freedom of speech in a method that he feels extra significantly impedes the human rights of others and North Koreans’ “proper to know”.
“By oppressing North Koreans, it (the South Korean authorities) turns into extra like a dictatorship, and ultimately the victims are North Koreans,” he stated.
Nonetheless, the Moon administration has been steadfast in its intention to limit the actions of the North Korean NGOs within the hopes of partaking North Korea within the twilight of his time period.
At his affirmation listening to on Might 7 Moon’s newest nominee for prime minister reiterated the federal government’s stance that the leaflets “threaten the security of our individuals” and are a violation of the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration.
Fighters for a Free North Korea’s Park has chosen to problem the legislation as unconstitutional and filed a prison grievance towards Moon.
Huh goals to proceed broadcasting.
“This can be a mission of the occasions entrusted to North Korean refugees. It can’t be stopped,” stated Huh.