South Korea Threatens Stiff Action Against Cross-Border Propagandists After Outcry From North Over Leaflets

The president’s office warned that the time-honored practice of scattering anti-North Korea messages across the border would no longer be tolerated.
Junhyup Kwon
Seoul, KR
south korea, north korea, propaganda, leaflet, kim yo jong
A South Korean soldier stands guard at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas on August 28, 2019. Photo by Kim Hong-Ji courtesy of AFP

Following a testy outburst from North Korean officials, South Korea’s Presidential Blue House on Thursday vowed to take legal action against organizations that send anti-North Korea leaflets and materials across the border, urging civil society organizations to observe laws forbidding such communications.

Kim You-geun, first deputy director of the Blue House’s National Security Office, told reporters that such guerrilla propaganda tactics undermined efforts to secure peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula, and did not comply with inter-Korean agreements. He also noted that such actions violated domestic laws, such as the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act, the Public Waters Management and Reclamation Act, and the Aviation Safety Act.


The office of President Moon Jae-in expressed “strong regret” over the continued launches of anti-North leaflets, and emphasized that the government had stopped sending similar leaflets of its own long ago, and that the North had done the same ever since the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration adopted by the two Korea’s leaders.

The office stressed that leafleting actions were supposed to have halted under not only the Panmunjom Declaration, but also under the July 4, 1972 North-South Korea Joint Statement, which established a basis for Korean unification; the 1992 Inter-Korean Basic Agreement, which serves as a template for inter-Korean relations; and the June 4, 2004 Agreement, which sought to prevent accidental maritime clashes.

The message to South Korean leafleteers came after a stern warning by North Korea, which severed communications with the South in response to a recent leaflet drop orchestrated by a group of North Korean defectors.

The Hermit Kingdom cut off all lines of communications with South Korea, including a direct hotline between the two countries’ leaders on Tuesday, after declaring it would deal with the South as an “enemy.” The sister of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong, was one of the two high profile officials behind the decision to cut communications, according to the state-run Rodong Sinmun.


Kim Yo Jong also warned that the North would back out of a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement if the South didn’t take action against those sending leaflets seen as insulting the Supreme Leader and criticizing the North’s nuclear ambitions.

Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and the head of World Institute For North Korea Studies, said the bellicose rhetoric from the North was an attempt to force the South to take care of the meddlesome leaflets itself by holding out the prospect of cooperation.

“Kim Yo Jong’s message is to threaten the South. North Korea wants to put the difficulties of denuclearization in South Korea’s charge,” Ahn told VICE News. “And they’re sending a message that if you take proper action, we can cooperate; otherwise we can’t.”

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, agreed that the point of the outcry in the North was to pressure the South.

“The North doesn’t mean to act right now, but it’s a pressure message,” Yang said.

Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK), a non-governmental organization run by North Korean defectors that organizes leaflet drops, posted an announcement on its website saying it had released 20 balloons carrying 500,000 propaganda leaflets, 500 brochures, $2,000, and 1,000 SD cards in the border city Gimpo on May 31.

It added that it had plans to send another one million leaflets over the border on June 25 to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, with the group’s chairman pledging to continue the controversial leaflet drops regardless of the North’s response.

“Since when has Kim Yo Jong become South Korea’s Presidential Secretary?,” FFNK leader Park Sang-hak said in an interview. “We didn’t scatter anti-North Korea leaflets, but sent letters. We will continue sending messages until the day when North Korean people are liberated.”

The Ministry of Unification, meanwhile, has filed a complaint with police against the FFNK and fellow defector group Kuen Saem, accusing them of violating multiple laws and putting the safety of people along the border at risk by sending leaflets into the North.

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