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Defectors defy controversial ban to send leaflet balloons into North Korea

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Defectors defy controversial ban to send leaflet balloons into North Korea
Park Sang-hak, the North Korean defector who leads the activist group, is currently on trial for violating a controversial South Korean ban on sending the leaflets. File Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

SEOUL, April 28 (UPI) -- A North Korean defectors group said Thursday that it's sent a million propaganda leaflets tied to balloons over the inter-Korean border, which defies a controversial law that bans that type of activity.

The leaflets were sent with 20 balloons on Monday and Tuesday, Fighters for Free North Korea said in a statement. They included photos and information about South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol.

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Outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in's government passed a law in December 2020 that prohibits sending propaganda or items such as flash drives into the North, drawing sharp criticism from political opponents and free speech advocates.

Park Sang-hak, the leader of the defectors group, is currently on trial for violating the ban last April.

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"It doesn't matter to me if they put me in jail," Park told UPI at the time. "I'm just going to continue to push for what I think is right."

Thursday, the group slammed North Korea's recent military parade and the saber-rattling speech made by leader Kim Jong Un.

"[Kim] threatened South Korea and all of humanity with nuclear weapons with madness and abusive language," the group's statement said. "The national prestige and security of South Korea are at risk."

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Park, a high-profile defector, has been sending leaflets and other items such as USB drives containing South Korean media and dollar bills on balloons since 2004.

North Korea has long denounced the practice, but the regime started a heated campaign against the leaflets in official state media two years ago. Pyongyang went on to sever all communications with Seoul and blow up the inter-Korean liaison office in the border city of Kaesong over what it called the South's failure to rein in defectors.

South Korea's anti-leaflet ban was passed less than six months later and drew accusations that Seoul was capitulating to the North at the expense of free speech at home.

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"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," John Sifton, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said ahead of the bill's passage.

Yoon has vowed to take a harder line against North Korea and his nominee to lead the country's Unification Ministry, Kwon Young-se, has spoken out against the leaflet ban. Kwon told reporters earlier this month that the law was "problematic from a constitutional perspective."

RELATED Seoul: Floating leaflets into North Korea threatens lives in South

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