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(LEAD) U.N. expert requests meeting with unification ministry amid concerns over leafleting

All News 17:27 July 22, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS statement from activist groups in paras 7-8)
By Yi Wonju

SEOUL, July 22 (Yonhap) -- A United Nations special rapporteur on North Korea's human rights situation has requested a meeting with the unification ministry, a ministry official said Wednesday, amid reports the rapporteur is concerned about South Korea's measures to restrict the activities of defector groups.

Tomas Ojea Quintana voiced concerns over the South Korean government's measures against North Korean defector groups and said he would get in touch with Seoul to request information, in an interview with Voice of America and Radio Free Asia on Wednesday (local time).

The United Nations may also "issue a formal communication with the government of South Korea, calling for a balanced management of the regulation and control of civil society organizations," he was quoted as saying.

"They have not told us to submit information but there has been a request for a meeting," Yoh Sang-key, the unification ministry's spokesperson, told reporters during a regular press briefing.

"We will explain the government's stance in the meeting," he added, while declining to comment on how and when the meeting will be held.

Earlier, the unification ministry said it will launch an inspection into government-registered activist groups, starting with 25 entities, including 13 groups run by North Korean defectors. The probe is expected to start later this month.

Activist groups protested the ministry's plan, calling on Seoul to halt the inspection.

"Conducting inspections of activists groups registered at the unification ministry, particularly those working for the human rights of North Koreans and the resettlement of defectors, and checking if they meet the requirements is discrimination and oppression," the activist groups said in a statement released Wednesday.

Last week, the ministry also revoked the operation permits of two North Korean defector groups for sending leaflets to the communist state in defiance of the government's calls to refrain from such activity.

The government has advised the groups against sending leaflets, saying the launches violate an inter-Korean exchange and cooperation act and could jeopardize the safety of residents in border areas.

But the groups have ignored the appeal, citing their right to freedom of expression and emphasizing that their leafleting is aimed at providing information to people in the oppressive North Korean state.

This photo, provided by Fighters for Free North Korea, an organization of North Korean defectors advocating North Korean human rights, on June 23, 2020, shows a balloon containing anti-Pyongyang leaflets being sent toward North Korea. The group claimed it dispatched the leaflets in the border town of Paju, north of Seoul, the previous day, while evading police surveillance. The launch came amid mounting inter-Korean tensions caused by the organization's previous leaflet distribution and the Seoul government's declared crackdown on it. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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