S Korean activist claims 1 milllion anti-North leaflets launched

Group floated 20 huge balloons carrying leaflets critical of North Korea’s nuclear programme and the Kim family dynasty.

A South Korean activist claims to have sent one million propaganda leaflets by balloon into North Korea, his first such launch while standing trial for past cross-border leafleting.

Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector-turned-activist, said on Thursday that he resumed his mass leafleting campaign this week after halting such activities for a year during a police investigation and his court trial for sending balloons across the border last year.

The law that took effect in March 2021 punishes anti-Pyongyang leafleters with up to three years in prison and has been hotly debated in the South, with critics saying Seoul’s liberal government was sacrificing freedom of speech to improve ties with North Korea.

On Monday and Tuesday, Park said his group, Fighters for a Free North Korea, floated 20 huge balloons carrying leaflets critical of North Korea’s nuclear programme and the Kim family across the tense Korean border.

Park said the balloons also contained pictures of South Korea’s incoming conservative president, Yoon Suk Yeol, to show North Koreans the difference between the South’s election system and the North’s father-to-son successions. He said small books and USB sticks, which carry information about South Korea’s economic and cultural development, were also put in the balloons.

“North Korea has deceived us. It once said it would scrap its nukes but its leader Kim Jong Un and [his sister] Kim Yo Jong are now threatening to launch preemptive nuclear strikes on South Korea and the international community. I want to condemn such acts,” Park said by phone.

Police in Gyeonggi province, who have jurisdiction over the border areas where Park claimed to have launched the balloons, said they were checking details about Park’s activities. They said they were not aware of Park’s reported leafleting in advance.

Experts have said many leaflets launched in the past landed in front-line South Korean areas. North Korea hasn’t reacted to any leafleting this week.

North Korea is extremely sensitive about any outside attempt to undermine Kim Jong Un’s leadership and weaken his absolute control over the country’s 26 million people, most of whom have little access to foreign news.

In 2020, North Korea blew up an empty, South Korean-built liaison office on its territory after making a furious response to South Korean civilian leafleting campaigns.

In 2014, North Korea fired at propaganda balloons flying towards its territory and South Korea returned fire, though there were no casualties.

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