June 12, 2020 10:02
The government on Thursday threatened to crack down on campaigners sending propaganda leaflets across the border by bending every law in the book to the purpose.
Kim You-geun, a deputy national security adviser at Cheong Wa Dae, expressed "deep regret" at the ongoing campaign, which has provoked hysterical outbursts from North Korea over the past weeks."
After a meeting with senior officials on Thursday, Kim threatened to "thoroughly crack down on attempts to send propaganda leaflets and other materials" across the border and "deal strictly with such activities according to law."
The Unification Ministry has already asked the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency to investigate two activist groups run by prominent North Korean defectors for violating various environmental and security laws with the leaflet campaign and revoke their charitable status.
The government now also accuses them of violating aviation and water pollution laws because the balloons are technically floating through a no-fly zone and the organizations have floated PET bottles with leaflets across the sea that have sometimes washed up on South Korean beaches.
But the clincher is the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act, which stipulates that "any person who intends to take goods to North Korea must obtain approval from the unification minister."
After a shrilly worded outburst by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister Yo-jong last week, North Korea on Tuesday severed all cross-border communication lines and orchestrated mass anti-South Korean rallies in Pyongyang.
The purpose is unclear, with observers suspecting that the kerfuffle is either a distraction from dire economic woes at home or a tantrum to get South Korea's attention and extort some kind of aid.
The government here seems to believe the latter, and was unusually swift to kowtow to Kim Yo-jong's orders, denouncing the leaflet campaign within hours of her statement being reported.
The ruling Minjoo Party has fallen in line, saying that "this is the time to root out illegal activities that have been repeated."
Conservatives have denounced the government's reaction and pointed out that only last week the ministry said there was no legal basis for stopping the leaflet campaign. In a statement, a group of conservative academics called the government's measures "excessively subservient" to the North.
But the government argues that a slew of inter-Korean agreements promise to stop propaganda activities on both sides of the border. Conservatives argue that the right of activists to free expression must not be infringed.
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