South Korean officials defend controversial propaganda lawDecember 21, 2020
Top South Korean officials on Monday defended a controversial new law banning the flying of leaflets and other propaganda into North Korea by balloon, arguing that the measure will protect citizens living along the militarized border between the two nations.
While critics say the law amounts to little more than an effort to appease North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and will further restrict the flow of information into the reclusive country, supporters argue that the use of leaflets does more harm than good.
“Today, the lives of 1.12 million people living along the border area are repeatedly threatened, daily lives and economic activities are restrained due to imposed safety measures and fear, and the local economy is suffering as less tourists visit the area,” Suh Ho, vice minister of South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, said in a piece for NK News. “The people have constantly pleaded with the National Assembly and the government to stop leaflets.”
“There exists no evidence that scattering leaflets improve North Korean human rights,” he said. “On the contrary, it endangers defector families in the North by strengthening the government’s control and brings adverse effects to North Korean human rights. Many defectors in South Korea even testified that malicious insults against the North Korean government do not contribute to improving human rights.”
The law marks another step in South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s policy of engagement with Pyongyang.
But critics in South Korea, including some lawmakers, argued that the leaflet ban will block the flow of information and eliminate a key method of informing North Korean citizens about the outside world and their country’s record of human-rights abuses. A group of South Korean attorneys already has vowed to file a constitutional appeal to the law.
The use of balloons to spread propaganda has drawn the ire of Mr. Kim and his family. Earlier this year, the dictator’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, demanded an end to the use of leaflets and labeled North Korean defectors involved in the effort “human scum” and “mongrel dogs.”
That kind of rhetoric out of North Korea helped fuel the ban and pushed South Korean leaders to make concessions to Pyongyang, said David Maxwell, a former U.S. special forces officer turned North Korea analyst with the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“One only need to look at the timing of the law and the history of North Korean blackmail diplomacy and north-south relations to know this entire debacle is in response to Kim Yo-jong’s threats combined with the naive belief that this will somehow appease the Kim family regime and allow the Moon administration to pursue its engagement strategy in the same way Charlie Brown tries to kick Lucy’s football,” he said.