April 01, 2021 13:06
The U.S. State Department has expressed concern about a South Korean ban on floating propaganda leaflets across the border to North Korea.
The 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices published Tuesday warns that "criminalizing the act of disseminating or moving leaflets and other materials across the inter-Korean border to North Korea" restricts freedom of expression.
Lisa Peterson, the acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said in a press briefing, "In terms of the anti-leaflet bill, increasing the free flow of information into North Korea is a U.S. priority."
Seoul was flustered. A Unification Ministry spokesman vehemently defended the ban, though she said, "We won't comment on the U.S. report."
"The government is also clearly aware of the importance of, and is making efforts for North Korean people's rights to know and the increasing of the free flow of information," she added. "But it's not desirable to make such efforts in a way that infringes on the rights of residents near the inter-Korean border, including their lives, bodies and peace."
Seoul has justified the ban with the tortuous logic that sending the leaflets across the border endangers local residents by exposing them to North Korean ire.
The U.S. report also takes issue with the ministry's audits of North Korean defector-led NGOs last year, which resulted in some of them being stripped of their charitable status.
"The administrative inspections were aimed at finding out whether they were performing in accordance with their stated purpose," the ministry spokesman said. "It's improper to call them suppression and coercion."
The country report also cites the case of a man who was fined W500,000 "for trespassing after he placed posters critical of President Moon [Jae-in]" in a building at Dankook University (US$1=W1,130). "A university official called to testify against the man stated the poster had caused no physical damage and that he did not want him to be punished, noting that the law guarantees the freedom of expression," it adds.
Meanwhile, Peterson warned that the U.S. is keeping a close eye on North Korea's "egregious human rights record, which remains among the worst in the world."
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