SEOUL – North Korea has threatened to attack a group of U.S. human rights activists working with defectors in the South if they go ahead with a planned balloon launch at the inter-Korean border this Saturday morning.
The message, which was carried by North Korean propaganda outlet Uriminzokkiri on Thursday and only published in Korean, described the Freedom Fighters of North Korea plan to distribute materials from the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) as “dirty” and “confrontational”.
“[The activists] will walk straight into our gunsights, where we will keep them–wherever they may hide–and slit their throats,” the page-long document, which was published as a “Warning Message” with the title “We will destroy Imjingak” said.
“No matter how large or cruel the result of our attack, the responsibility will lie on the puppet regime [South Korea] for distributing such dirty propaganda leaflets,” it added.
South Korean defectors often send helium-filled balloons carrying packages over the border as a way of distributing information and materials into North Korea that the government would otherwise deem illegal.
Freedom Fighters of North Korea, a defector-ran organization headed by Park Sang Hak, plans to release 5000 balloons carrying DVDs, USB sticks, waterproof leaflets and pocket shortwave radios in the border city of Paju, South Korea, this Saturday.
Park, the son of a North Korean spy, was recently awarded the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent by the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual conference created by Human Rights Foundation president Thor Halvorssen.
“We’ve known of his activities for five years now –– we thought it was important to actually come, experience what he’s doing, and present him with his prize money,” Halvorssen, who is in South Korea to attend Park’s balloon launch, told NK News in Seoul.
The South Korean government has, at times, put pressure on Park to postpone or cancel launches at risk of provoking Pyongyang. He has recently received death threats for his campaigns.
“We think it’s very good work, it’s important. Non-violent educational efforts are essential in a country that has a sufficated civil society and does not permit any kind of free information flow,” Halvorssen told NK News.
‘BROTHERS’ IN HARMS WAY
The balloons are scheduled to be released from the Imjin Pavilion; an area on the southern side of the inter-Korean border that is often used as a staging ground for protests and similar balloon releases.
In October 2012, North Korean state media outlet the KCNA issued a warning to activists in Imjin, threatening military attacks should a planned balloon launch go ahead.
That launch was carried out without military confrontation from the North.
Yesterday’s threat was published by Uriminzokkiri, a China-based website that specializes in creating propaganda targeted towards South Koreans and ethnic Koreans in China who might be sympathetic towards the North Korean government. It has not yet been carried by domestic state media or the KCNA.
“Brothers at the Human Rights Foundation, we are warning you: if you so much as haunt Imjin with your presence and act as human shields for refugees who have already been sentenced to death, we will kill you. Go home as soon as possible,” the statement said.
“They’re not going to be firebombing us on Saturday, at least I hope they’re not, I’ll be wearing my hat just in case,” Thor Halvorssen told NK News.
“It’s par for the course, you know, regimes will constantly put out statements [like this],” he added. “It’s a caricature that just reveals how silly they are, how weak they are and how afraid they are of information. It’s an indicator that at least they care about what we’re doing. We must be doing something right.”
“At the basic level, it’s not about capitalism or socialism it’s: Can you keep your stuff’? Can you speak your mind? These are very basic things. Are you allowed to leave [the country]? Everything else follows from that.”
Additional reporting by Shinui Kim in Seoul. Headline image: Flickr user Katenev (Creative Commons)