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Police raid offices of defector groups over anti-NK leaflets

Park Sang-hak, head of Fighters for a Free North Korea (Yonhap)
Park Sang-hak, head of Fighters for a Free North Korea (Yonhap)

The police on Friday raided the two defector-run organizations at the center of anti-Pyongyang leaflet campaigns here on allegations that they violated laws governing inter-Korean exchanges.

Investigators from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency were dispatched to the offices of Fighters for a Free North Korea, led by North Korean defector Park Sang-hak, and Keunsaem, led by Park’s younger brother Park Jung-oh. Both offices are in Gangnam-gu, southern Seoul.

FFNK is accused of flying helium balloons that carry anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border. Keunsaem allegedly floated rice-filled bottles into the country by sea, with anti-North messages in them.

The officers conducted search and seizure operations at the Keunsaem office in the morning and at FFNK’s office in the afternoon.

The police are seeking documents, accounting books and other evidence of unlawful activity. They also plan to check the authenticity of Park Sang-hak’s claim that he sent 500,000 anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the inter-Korean border to the North on Monday evening.

Park Sang-hak said Tuesday that his group had sent the leaflets attached to 20 helium balloons, in defiance of a government ban.

He strongly protested the investigation Friday, saying his freedom of expression was being suppressed.

“This is awfully unfair,” Park told reporters. “I cannot but question whether (South Korea) is a free democratic country, when it is criminalizing the delivery of truth and fact to 20 million North Korean people.

“(The government) is giving in and groveling to Kim Jong-un and Kim Yo-jong,” he said, referring to the North Korean leader and his sister, “while obliterating the freedom of speech of our nationals. I will continue to launch (the leaflets) until Kim Jong-un’s tyranny toward his people stops, and as long as political prisoner camps exist.”

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 last week.

Police said Tuesday that one of the balloons used in the leaflet campaign was found on a mountainside some 100 kilometers east of the location where the group claimed to have launched the balloons. The police could not confirm the whereabouts of the other balloons.

But the Unification Ministry cast doubt on Park’s claim, saying that based on the investigation and the wind conditions, none of the balloons appeared to have reached North Korean territory.

The ministry vowed on Tuesday to take strict action against Park and his group, 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.

The ministry said sending leaflets and rice-filled bottles across the North violates the inter-Korean exchange and cooperation law, which prohibits sending goods to North Korea without government permission. The ministry also accused the groups of violating the Aviation Safety Act and the Public Waters Management and Reclamation Act.

By Ahn Sung-mi (