Anti-regime leaflets sent across the inter-Korean border by activists in the South do not improve North Koreans’ access to information, Seoul’s unification ministry official said Tuesday.
Speaking in response to a recent op-ed by high-profile activist Park Sang-hak — whose activities sparked a major escalation of inter-Korean tensions last month — South Korea defended Seoul’s efforts to put a stop to those launches.
“Activities scattering anti-North leaflets and other items [into the North] are not much of a help to satisfying the North Korean residents’ right to know,” an official from Seoul’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) told reporters in a background briefing.
In an opinion piece for the Washington Post on Monday, Park condemned the Moon administration for trying to stop him and his fellow activists from sending “food and information into North Korea.”
Park insisted that his efforts to ensure the North Koreans’ right to information was “effective,” citing past assassination attempts by Pyongyang against him as proof that Pyongyang was agitated by his leaflets.
The flyers, he claimed, “drop into towns and villages [in the North] and act as windows to the outside world for an otherwise trapped population.”
“Our leaflets carry the truth about the Kim family,” he went on. “The truth is what the Kim dynasty is most afraid of.”
Park, who heads the Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK) group, in his article on Tuesday described North Korea as a “dictatorship that deprives its citizens of food, medical care and basic access to information.”
In contrast, he argued, South Korea should protect activities such as distributing anti-regime leaflets as a “basic act of free speech.”
“If the goal is to one day have free speech in the North, we cannot accept censorship in the South,” he went on, condemning the South Korean government for banning him from leaving the country, investigating his bank account, and pressing charges against FFNK and Keunsaem, another activist group led by his brother, Park Jung-oh.
Asked to comment on the article, an official from Seoul’s unification ministry on Tuesday dismissed claims the Moon administration was breaching freedom of expression.
“Although the activity of scattering leaflets fall under the freedom of expression, it can be restricted if it causes danger to the border area residents’ life and property rights as confirmed in the judicial precedent of the Supreme Court in 2016,” the official told reporters.
“Guaranteeing North Korean residents’ right to know must be done in a way that does not induce inter-Korean tensions and not cause damage to border area residents.”
Early June saw Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong Un, warn Seoul that Pyongyang could withdraw from an inter-Korean military agreement should “anti-DPRK” activities by defector-activists be allowed to continue.
Park Sang-hak in his opinion piece this week said the Moon administration had at the time “agree[d] with the dictator’s sister,” arguing that it had begun a crackdown on balloon launches “just hours after her threats.”
Seoul on Tuesday said its position remained “firm” that such activities are illegal, despite a relative de-escalation of inter-Korean tension following the North’s decision to “suspend” planned military action against the South last month.
Meanwhile, as part of a bid to stop activists from launching balloons and other items into the North, Seoul has worked to revoke the corporate permits of FFNK and Keunsaem.
Seoul’s unification ministry held a hearing for that process in late June. Park Sang-hak of FFNK was not present, though his brother did attend.
The ministry has now reportedly given Park until Wednesday to submit a written response to the case. If he doesn’t, it is likely FFNK’s corporate permit may be revoked as early as this week, according to ministry official Tuesday.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Anti-regime leaflets sent across the inter-Korean border by activists in the South do not improve North Koreans' access to information, Seoul's unification ministry official said Tuesday.
Speaking in response to a recent op-ed by high-profile activist Park Sang-hak -- whose activities sparked a major escalation of inter-Korean tensions last month -- South Korea defended Seoul's efforts to put a stop to those launches.