1 of 2 | Defector Park Sang-hak claimed Friday that his activist group Fighters for Free North Korea sent balloons carrying leaflets, books and cash into the North this week, defying a government ban. Photo by Fighters for Free North Korea
SEOUL, April 30 (UPI) -- An activist group defied a South Korean government ban and floated balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang information across the border into North Korea, it announced on Friday.
Fighters for Free North Korea, led by high-profile defector Park Sang-hak, sent 500,000 leaflets, 500 booklets and $5,000 in one-dollar bills attached to 10 large balloons into the reclusive state, Park said in a statement. He claimed the group carried out the mission in secret on two occasions between Sunday and Thursday at locations in Gyeonggi and Gangwon Provinces next to the DMZ.
The action came after a South Korean anti-leafleting law went into effect in March. Violators face a maximum prison term of three years or a fine of $27,000.
Park told UPI that he received a call on Friday from South Korea's Ministry of Unification, which handles cross-border affairs, telling him that the police would be contacting him.
"It doesn't matter to me if they put me in jail," Park said. "I don't have any legal defense ready. I'm just going to continue to push for what I think is right."
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Unification told UPI that the ministry had not verified whether the balloon launches took place and was awaiting the results of a police investigation before taking any further steps.
In his statement, Park called the leafleting ban "the worst law" and vowed he would continue to defy it.
"Not three years in prison, or 30 years, or even hanging from the gallows will stop us from telling the facts and the truth to 20 million North Koreans who are poor, hungry and without any rights," Park said.
The ban has sparked controversy, with some calling it a form of censorship amid ongoing efforts by the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in to improve ties with Pyongyang.
"The South Korean government seems more interested in keeping North Korea's Kim Jong Un happy than letting its own citizens exercise their basic rights on behalf of their northern neighbors," said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, in December ahead of the bill's passage.
At a U.S. congressional hearing earlier this month, lawmakers urged South Korea to revisit the anti-leafleting ban. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., called the law "an attack on free speech," and said it was "very troubling."
On Thursday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price praised "the courage of the North Korean defector and human rights community" and said the United States "will always support their efforts to shine a spotlight on these grave injustices."
North Korea has long condemned the sending of leaflets. Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, last year called the practice a "sordid and wicked act of hostility" committed by "human scum."
Pyongyang severed all communications with Seoul and blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in June over what it called South Korea's failure to rein in the defectors.
In his statement, Park accused Moon of "standing on the side of Kim Jong Un" in backing the anti-leafleting law.
"Don't the North Koreans, who have been robbed of all human rights by the tyranny of [Kim Jong Un], at least have the right to know the truth?" Park said. "Is this Seoul? Is it Pyongyang? Is South Korea a free democracy? Is it a totalitarian dictatorship?"