UN official upholds defectors’ freedom of expression, under attack by both Koreas

FPI / June 28, 2020


Ironically, a fight over freedom of the press, sparked by North Korean defectors sending balloons with leaflets to their former homeland, has brought both Koreas once again to the brink of war.

In this April 29, 2016 file photo, members of a South Korean civic group send leaflets denouncing the North Korean regime in Tanhyeon, Paju, near the North Korean border. / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-Suk

Both the North and South Korean governments have threatened the defectors in the South who have sought to counter communist “fake news” by sending real news North over the DMZ.

The practice has long infuriated Pyongyang because the leaflets contain messages that expose the communist regime and Kim Jong-Un. The offensive counters the North Korean state media’s relentless propaganda in the “Hermit Kingdom”.

The leaflets also often contain U.S. one-dollar bills and USB memory sticks meant to encourage North Koreans to pick up the leaflets.

Now the defectors have been targeted by hastily-passed legislation forbidding the practice.

However, a UN official said that the act of sending leaflets into North Korea by defectors from the communist country falls under “freedom of expression” and should not be stopped.

Sending the leaflets is an exercise of the right to freedom of expression, said Signe Poulsen, head of the Seoul office of the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Poulsen made the remarks amid heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula after the North threatened to retaliate against the South for what it called Seoul’s “connivance” at the floating of anti-Pyongyang materials in large balloons.

The leftist government of South Korean President Moon Jae-In, which has moved to solidify ties with the communist North, sought to legislate a ban on leafleting and filed a criminal complaints against two defector groups who carry out such launches, the Korea Times reported on June 23.

The provincial government of Gyeonggi, located near the border with the North and where a lot of leafleting takes places, issued an administrative order last week banning the entry into border areas to fly leaflets.

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