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[Editorial] Leafleting of NK positive

Supreme Court acknowledges role of flyers that let N. Koreans know truth of their regime

By Korea Herald

Published : May 3, 2023 - 05:30

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The Supreme Court ruled last week that it was unfair for the Moon Jae-in administration to cancel the permission for the establishment of a group run by North Korean defectors to fly balloons filled with leaflets into North Korea.

It reversed the lower courts’ decision which had said the cancellation of the permission was just.

The Supreme Court ruled that sending leaflets into North Korea plays a positive role in showing North Koreans the reality of their nation's regime, calling attention to their human rights situation.

On its surface, the ruling is a judgment regarding the cancellation of the group's permission to be established, but on closer inspection, it raises questions about the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act, which was amended under the Moon administration to criminalize sending leaflets to North Korea.

The revision of the law is heavily criticized, with some suggesting that it was amended following the orders of Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Fighters for a Free North Korea, a defector group leading the leafleting campaign against the North's regime, launched balloons filled with about 500,000 leaflets to the North from April to June 2020.

At that time, flying leaflets to North Korea was not a crime. But in June of the same year, Kim Yo-jong issued a statement telling the South Korean government to do something to prevent the group from sending leaflets to North Korea. Four hours later, the Moon administration said it was working on the revision of a related law to ban the dissemination of leaflets to North Korea. Some 43 days later, Moon's government took steps to cancel the permission for the establishment of Fighters for a Free North Korea.

In December 2020, the then-ruling majority Democratic Party of Korea processed a bill to revise the law to punish leafleting of North Korea by imprisonment of up to three years or a fine up to 30 million won ($22,300).

Criticism and concern mounted at home and abroad, but the Moon regime paid it no attention. It justified the punishment provision, citing the safety of residents near the border where the group would launch balloons carrying the leaflets. North Korea threatened to shoot down the balloons.

Fighters for a Free North Korea filed a lawsuit, but the appellate court ruled against the plaintiff, saying that the leafleting of North Korea goes against public interest.

But the Supreme Court sided with the plaintiff, ruling that it is difficult to justify or prove that leafleting puts people’s lives in any danger.

The amendment of the law was preposterous. Its revised content is also likely to be in breach of the constitution. The anti-leafleting law does not only help the North Korean regime cut their residents off from the outside world but also infringes on freedom of expression, which is a basic human right.

Shortly after the revised law was promulgated, 27 groups, including Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea, filed a constitutional appeal. The Yoon Suk Yeol administration submitted to the Constitutional Court a written opinion to the effect that the provision in question is unconstitutional.

Yet the Constitutional Court went more than two years without reviewing the appeal filed by the aforementioned groups, who all seek to improve North Korea’s human rights situation. It must examine the constitutionality of the provision and make a ruling quickly.

Freedom of expression and the right to know are core values in a liberal democracy. It is antidemocratic to punish the peaceful sharing of information. One of the most effective ways to bring about changes in North Korea is to let its residents know about the outside world, as well as about the truth of the North Korean regime and their dire human rights situation.

The anti-leafleting law strengthens Kim’s tyranny. It must, once again, be revised.