South Korea govt should reject ‘leaflet law,’ HRW says

Seoul, Dec 5 (efe-epa).- The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday condemned the intention of the South Korean parliament to pass a law to criminalize the sending of leaflets and other items across the border into North Korea.

Passing the bill into law would violate rights to freedom of expression, would make engaging in humanitarianism and human rights activism a criminal offense, and would only serve to keep the North’s leader Kim Jong-un “happy,” HRW said.

“The South Korean government seems more interested in keeping North Korea’s Kim Jong Un happy than letting its own citizens exercise their basic rights on behalf of their northern neighbors,” said John Sifton, HRW’s Asia advocacy director, in a statement.

“The proposed law does a great disservice to the people of both South Korea and North Korea, and the National Assembly should vote against it.” he added.

The law would provide for sentences of up to three years in prison for anyone who sends leaflets and other items into North Korea without the permission of the government.

Items listed include “promotional pamphlets,” “printed hand-outs,” and “auxiliary storage device” such as USBs, SD cards, and disks, as well as “money or other monetary benefits,” HRW said.

The overly broad language could be interpreted to include food or medicine, the NGO charged.

“Many North Korean escapees and South Korean groups routinely send money to relatives and other at-risk people in North Korea, as well as USB and SD cards with digital content containing documentaries or other presentations on life outside North Korea, classes in math or economics, information on current affairs, news, and history. They also send seeds, food, secondhand clothes, and medicine,” the statement said.

“It is unclear whether the law would only apply to informational items and money, or also include other items of value.”

The amendment was approved Wednesday by a committee of the South Korean National Assembly and will be submitted for parliamentary approval on Dec. 9. It would then become law once signed off by President Moon Jae-in.

The proposal comes after Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong in June publicly demanded that the cross-border actions cease. The South Korean authorities then denounced and applied administrative measures against groups of activists who often send balloons to the North with text against the Kim dictatorship.

“The South Korean government should abandon its misguided strategy of trying to win favor with Kim Jong Un by cracking down on its own citizens,” Sifton said. “Promoting human rights is not at odds with effective foreign policy.” EFE-EPA


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