The South Korean parliament on Monday passed a law to criminalize sending anti-North Korea leaflets and other items across the border, a move that opposition lawmakers called a “disgraceful submission” to Pyongyang.
Members of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s ruling Democratic Party proposed the bill in June after groups of North Korean defectors and activists in the South angered the North by scattering propaganda leaflets across the border. In response, the North destroyed an inter-Korean liaison office and severed all communications with the South.
Lee Jae-myung, a member of the party and a governor of a province bordering North Korea, said earlier this month that the leaflets put the residents in the border area in danger by provoking the North and amounted to an “anti-national act” that threatens national security.
“The text in the leaflets was not intended to improve North Korean human rights or advocate for the South Korea’s regime, but to mock and attack a certain person,” Lee said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
But lawmakers from the main opposition, The People Power Party, called it a “disgraceful submission to Kim Yo Jong,” the younger sister of Kim Jong Un who had sharply criticized the propaganda leaflets and activists.
She warned that the North would back out of a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement if the South didn’t take action against those leaflets seen as insulting the supreme leader and criticizing their nuclear ambitions.
Opposition lawmakers have claimed that the legislation would suppress freedom of speech and human rights activities.
The so-called “anti-leaflet” law is a revision of the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act, allowing the nation’s authorities to imprison violators for up to three years or fine them up to 30 million won ($27,500).
The ruling party’s lawmakers and authorities said that such propaganda tactics did not comply with past inter-Korean agreements.
Lawmaker Song Young-gil, who led the bill, wrote that there are some groups of people neglecting the agreement that both two Koreas “agreed not to slander each other,” which came into force in 1972.
The new law is expected to take aim at Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK), a non-governmental organization run by North Korean defectors that organizes leaflet drops.
For more than ten years, the groups have released balloons carrying propaganda leaflets, SD cards, and U.S. dollars in the border areas.
In a June interview with VICE World News, Park Sang-hak, a leader of FFNK, said the group would “continue sending messages until the day when North Korean people are liberated.”
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