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A North Korean defector and activist said he would not give up his 15-year campaign to send messages to his homeland after South Korea banned the launching of propaganda leaflets into his country.
The South Korean parliament voted Monday to amend the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act to prohibit the delivery of printed materials, goods, money and other items of value across the heavily fortified frontier, Reuters reported.
The contentious legislation – which also criminalizes the launching of propaganda leaflets by balloon — passed with the support of 187 lawmakers, mostly governing party members who support President Moon Jae-in’s policy of engagement with Pyongyang.
It also restricts loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts, which the South Korean military once employed as part of psychological warfare against the North until it withdrew the equipment following a 2018 summit between the two countries.
Violators of the ban, which will take effect in three months, face up to three years behind bars or pay 30 million won – about $27,400 — in fines.
Defector Park Sang-hak, who has already been stripped of a license for his leaflet-launching group, said he would not give up his efforts.
“I’ll keep sending leaflets to tell the truth because North Koreans have the right to know,” he told Reuters. “I’m not afraid of being jailed.”
Park and about 20 other rights groups in South Korea vowed to challenge the law’s constitutionality, while Human Rights Watch called the ban a “misguided strategy” by South Korea.
“It criminalizes sending remittances to families in North Korea and denies their rights to outside information,” said Shin Hee-seok of the Transitional Justice Working Group, Reuters reported. “Such appeasement efforts only risk inviting further North Korean provocations and demands.”
The change was approved despite efforts by opposition lawmakers to block the super-majority of Moon Jae-in’s ruling party.
Defectors and other campaigners in South Korea have for decades sent the leaflets – as well as food, medicine, money, radios and USB sticks containing South Korean news and dramas — over the tightly guarded border, according to Reuters.
The Hermit Kingdom has long denounced the practice and recently stepped up its condemnation of it, to the alarm of a South Korean government hoping to improve relations on the divided peninsula.
The bill was introduced in June after Kim Yo Jong — the sister of North Korean despot Kim Jong Un — said South Korea should ban the leaflets or face the “worst phase” of relations.
“They’re trying to put Kim Yo Jong’s order into law at her single word,” former North Korean diplomat and opposition lawmaker Tae Yong-ho said in a 10-hour filibuster speech, adding that the bill would only help Kim’s government continue “enslaving” its population.
US Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), co-chair of a bipartisan human rights commission, issued a statement slamming the amendment as “ill-conceived, frightening” for facilitating the imprisonment of people for simply sharing information.
When asked about his statement, South Korean’s Unification Ministry, which handles ties with North Korea, said the bill was a “minimal effort to protect the lives and safety of residents in border regions,” Reuters reported.
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