Balloons carrying leaflets criticizing the North’s government (Yonhap)
The practice of sending anti-North Korean propaganda flying across the border attached to hot air balloons has become a thorny issue amid worsening tensions between the two Koreas.
Enraged by the defector groups sending leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the country’s reclusive regime, Pyongyang publicly blew up the inter-Korean liaison office in its border city Kaesong on Tuesday, and warned that it would take further action if Seoul failed to stop the balloon launches.
Seoul vowed a “thorough crackdown” against the leaflet campaigns, with the Unification Ministry filing criminal complaints against two groups and revoking their business permits.
One of the two organizations is Fighters for a Free North Korea, a civic group founded and led by Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector.
“No one can stop us,” Park said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday.
He says he is unfazed by warnings from both Koreas and remains committed to his mission: to let the people of North Korea, who are brainwashed and blindfolded by the regime, know the truth.
Park said he plans to send even more leaflets across the heavily fortified border to mark the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, which started June 25, 1950.
“We are still preparing about 1 million leaflets this time,” he said, showing thin plastic leaflets with messages printed in small letters denouncing Kim and the regime’s human rights abuses.
“They will tell North Koreans the real cause of the Korean War. In North Korea, people are brainwashed that the US and South Korea started the war to take over the Korean Peninsula. But it’s a complete lie. It was Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, who invaded the South and started the war that killed 3 million people,” he continued.
Park Sang-hak, chairman of the Fighters for Free North Korea. (Ahn Sung-mi/The Korea Herald)
The exact date of the next balloon launch is undecided, he said. “It will depend on the weather and when the direction of the wind is favorable.”
The balloons will carry propaganda leaflets, along with crisp $1 dollar bills and memory cards.
On Wednesday, Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds Seoul and borders North Korea, issued an administrative order banning people suspected of having sent leaflets from entering cities adjacent to the inter-Korean border -- the areas where Park’s group is to distribute leaflets -- with warnings of legal consequences.
“Under the South Korean Constitution, all citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, press, assembly and association. Blocking our basic rights, because it makes our main enemy North Korea furious, is nonsense,” he said. “Why is the South Korean government siding with North Korea and trying to please them?
“What scares Kim the most is when its 25 million citizens, blinded and deafened by Kim’s tyranny, finally discover the truth that they have been enslaved by the Kim family all these years,” he said. “That’s why North Korea is furious over the leaflets, because it’s the truth and the fact.”
Park said he is not scared of threats or warnings.
“If I was scared for my life, I could have never launched these leaflets,” he said. He has survived numerous death threats and one apparent assassination attempt, by a North Korean spy in 2011. “I truly believe that when the North Korean people learn the truth, the regime will change and it must change. Until that day, I will keep dropping these.”
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org