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(LEAD) Unification ministry to file legal complaint against leaflet-sending defector groups

All News 17:14 June 10, 2020

(ATTN: CORRECTS that complaint will be filed with police, not prosecution; ADDS details throughout, photo)
By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, June 10 (Yonhap) -- The unification ministry said Wednesday that it will file a complaint with police against two North Korean defector groups for sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border, a day after the North cut off all inter-Korean communication lines over such leafleting.

The ministry said that it will also take action to revoke business permits granted to the groups, Fighters for Free North Korea and Keunsaem, accusing them of putting the safety of people living in border regions at risk by sending leaflets into the North.

"They have violated public interests by heightening tensions between the South and the North and by running squarely against the agreements reached by the leaders of the two Koreas, and also caused danger to the lives and safety of residents in the border regions," the ministry said in a press release.

Members of Fighters for Free North Korea, an organization of defectors from North Korea, send balloons carrying anti-North leaflets across the border from the South Korean border city of Paju, in this file photo dated April 2, 2016. On June 4, 2020, South Korea called for a halt to a civic campaign to send anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets into North Korea, hours after the North threatened to scrap a military tension reduction agreement and exchange projects unless Seoul stops the campaign.

The ministry said that leafleting by the two groups constitutes a violation of the inter-Korean exchange and cooperation act that bans sending goods to North Korea without government permission.

Defector groups and other activists have occasionally sent a large number of leaflets via giant balloons sharply criticizing the communist regime and its leader. These were often flown with one-dollar bills, USB memory sticks and other items to get more North Koreans to pick up the leaflets.

The government has advised against sending such leaflets, citing concerns about the safety of residents in the regions where the leaflet-carrying balloons are launched because the North could take retaliatory military action on the areas.

Defector groups have ignored such an appeal, citing their right to freedom of expression.

On Wednesda, unification ministry officials said, citing a Supreme Court ruling in 2016, that the right to freedom of expression is not unlimited and can be restricted if its exercise clearly endangers the lives of residents.

The ministry's decision to take legal action against the defector groups came a day after North Korea defined the South as an "enemy" and vowed to cut all inter-Korean communication lines in anger over anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent across the border by North Korean defectors.

The decision followed Pyongyang's repeated threats last week to abolish an inter-Korean liaison office and completely shut down other major cross-border programs, denouncing leaflet-sending as a hostile act breaching a series of peace agreements between the two sides.

South Korea promised to take legislative measures to prevent activists from sending leaflets, but the North derided Seoul's envisioned move as belated and "little more advanced excuses."

The two defector groups are among the most active groups sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets criticizing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his regime.

In late May, Fighters for Free North Korea sent around 500,000 ant-Pyongyang leaflets into the North via balloons. It is planning to fly around 1 million propaganda leaflets across the border on June 25 in time for the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Earlier this week, Keunsaem, along with Fighters for Free North Korea, also tried to send plastic bottles carrying rice into the North but failed to do so in the face of opposition by residents.

Last week, an association of mayors from border areas called on the unification ministry to come up with stricter regulations to stop leafleting, saying that it "crushes the dreams of the people in the border areas hoping to live safely and peacefully without any tensions."

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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