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(3rd LD) Police search offices of defector groups at center of anti-Pyongyang leafleting

All Headlines 20:33 June 26, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES with latest developments in first 4 paras; CHANGES photos)

SEOUL, June 26 (Yonhap) -- Police on Friday raided two offices related to a North Korean defector who has been at the center of the anti-Pyongyang leafleting campaign, which the South Korean government views as a breach of law and the North has vehemently denounced.

With a court-issued search and seizure warrant, officers from the Seoul Metropolitan Police combed the office of Park Sang-hak, the head of Fighters for a Free North Korea, and the office of Kuensaem, another anti-North Korea activist group run by Park's younger brother, Jung-oh. Police also looked into Park's vehicle and mobile phone in search of evidence.

The search operation, which initially met with strong opposition from the two group's officials, lasted for seven hours from 10 a.m.

Park's activist group has been leading the campaign to send anti-North Korea propaganda leaflets across the border.

"The search is part of efforts to seize materials so that we can verify if the Parks' activities are in breach of the law," a police officer said.

Defying the government's warning against cross-border leafleting, Park claimed that activists from his group sent some 500,000 leaflets carried by 20 large helium balloons over to the North on Monday night.

Police move a box of materials during a search and seizure operation of the office of Park Sang-hak who has been at the center of the anti-Pyongyang leafleting campaign, in Seoul on June 26, 2020. (Yonhap)

The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae earlier warned that the government would crack down on such acts, which it said constitute a violation of laws including the inter-Korean exchange and cooperation act.

The campaign to scatter leaflets that criticize the North Korean political system and the North's ruling Kim family has recently been a major source of confrontations between the two Koreas.

Meeting with reporters Friday following the police search, Park vowed to continue his leaflet campaign and demanded the government guarantee his right to free expression.

"As long as (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un's tyranny and political prison camps (in North Korea) continue, I will keep going," Park told reporters.

He also accused the government of "clamping down on nationals' freedom of expression while being submissive to Kim Jong-un and his younger sister Yo-jong."

According to Park's lawyer, the police based the latest search on charges of breaching the law on inter-Korean exchange and collection and use of donations, as well as the high-pressure gas safety control act.

North Korean defector Park Sang-hak, the head of Fighters for a Free North Korea, gets in a car in front of the group's office in Seoul on June 26, 2020, after police completed their search and seizure of the office as part of their probe into the group's anti-Pyongyang leafleting campaign. (Yonhap)

pbr@yna.co.kr
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