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Experts rap Seoul for ban on flying anti-Pyongyang leaflets across border

Civic groups run by defectors in South Korea send balloons containing anti-North Korea leaflets, along with food and medicine, near the inter-Korean border in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, April 2, 2016. (Yonhap)
Civic groups run by defectors in South Korea send balloons containing anti-North Korea leaflets, along with food and medicine, near the inter-Korean border in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, April 2, 2016. (Yonhap)
North Korea experts on Thursday criticized a move by the South Korean parliament to criminalize sending propaganda leaflets, along with food and medicine, into the North across the inter-Korean border.

Defectors here have long sent leaflets and other materials across the border, but the activity essentially ground to a halt in June when Pyongyang blew up the inter-Korean liaison office in protest.

Roberta Cohen, who served as a US deputy assistant secretary of state for human rights, expressed concerns, telling Radio Free Asia that Seoul’s political and economic influence hinges on respecting human rights and democratic institutions.

She added that Seoul’s well-earned freedoms and democracy will take a hit and Pyongyang is the only winner here.

Robert King, a former US special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, was more direct.

“It seems to me that this is getting into North Korea because the North Koreans are being obstinate. We have to be nice to them. I don’t see that it’s moving things in a very positive direction,” he told Voice of America.

He stressed that the South should instead discuss improving North Koreans’ access to information.

Suzanne Scholte, co-vice chair of the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, agreed.

“It’s horrible. It’s appalling because the South Korean parliament is doing the bidding of the Kim regime. I mean, this is something that is a demand that Kim Yo-jong made,” she told VOA.

Kim Yo-jong, younger sister of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and now a key Politburo member, demanded in June that Seoul ban the leafleting, only to destroy the liaison office days later.

Cho Tae-yong, an opposition People Power Party lawmaker who previously served as a nuclear envoy and deputy national security adviser, slammed the bill as “anti-human rights.” 

The National Human Rights Commission stated in 2015 that potential retaliation from North Korea could not justify restricting people’s basic rights guaranteed in the Constitution, Cho noted.

“No administration has ever attempted to put the screws like this to the leaflet sending, which is the least effort made to democratize the communist regime,” Cho wrote on Facebook. “It’s unconstitutional and dangerous.”

The bill is set for swift passage by plenary vote later this month as the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, which introduced it, controls the 300-seat parliament.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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