Park Jung-oh (right), head of Kuensaem, and his lawyer answer reporters’ question after attending the Unification Ministry’s hearing to decide the revocation of its operation permit on Monday in Seoul. (Yonhap)
The Unification Ministry on Monday held a hearing on two North Korean defector-led groups, as the final step before revoking their permits for floating anti-North Korea propaganda materials across the border, in defiance of the government.
The ministry said it held a hearing on Kuensaem, an organization that has sent bottles filled with rice to the North, and Fighters for a Free North Korea, which has floated anti-Pyongyang leaflets.
North Korean defector Park Jung-oh, who heads Kuensaem, attended the hearing in the morning with his lawyer to give his explanation and opinion on the ministry’s nullification plan. His older brother Park Sang-hak, who chairs FFNK, neither attended the hearing nor sent a legal representative, claiming they had not received the ministry’s hearing summons.
“(FFNK) did not attend the hearing without a reasonable cause and failed to submit an additional opinion,” the ministry said in a statement. “After checking whether there are any additional documents to be submitted, we will proceed with revocation and other related procedures.”
Once their license is revoked, the organizations will not be allowed to publicly raise funds, while donors will not be eligible for various tax benefits, the ministry added. The final decision is expected to be made around July.
“I explained that our operation is not outside the purpose of the organization,” Park Jung-oh told reporters after the hearing. “We have sent rice and masks on the basis of universal values and human rights, and are not outside of our objective.”
Earlier, the ministry noted that by sending rice-filled bottles, USBs, Bibles and other materials to North Korea, Kuensaem broke its original objective of “educating defector youth to contribute toward peaceful unification.” It also cited sending propaganda materials harmed public interest by risking lives and safety of residents in the border area, as grounds for revoking the permits.
Kuensaem’s legal representative asserted the group has sent rice and masks, but not Bibles and USBs. He added the ministry’s decision to revoke its permit is an “infringement on the right to freedom of expression and assembly,” and vowed to take further action, including filing an administrative suit against the government, if it happens.
The ministry’s hearing comes weeks after the government vowed to take strict action against the defector groups, saying their activities worsened tensions between the two Koreas. Earlier this month, the ministry filed criminal complaints against both organizations, accusing them of breaking laws on inter-Korean cooperation and aviation security.
Following the ministry’s complaint, the police raided offices of two organizations on Friday, seizing documents and devices for its ongoing investigation into their leaflet campaigns.
The leaflets -- denouncing Kim Jong-un, his dictatorship and the North’s human rights abuses -- have enraged the reclusive nation, which cited them as the reason it wrecked the inter-Korean liaison office on June 16.
By Ahn Sung-mi(firstname.lastname@example.org