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Gov't gets tough on NK defectors

By Kang Seung-woo

The government is seeking stronger measures against activist and North Korean defectors groups that have been sending anti-North Korea leaflets across the inter-Korean border, stating that their campaigns are not helping to create peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Park Jung-oh, head of the North Korean defectors' group Keunsaem, speaks to reporters after attending a unification ministry hearing on whether its license will be revoked, at the Inter-Korean Dialogue Office in Seoul, Monday. / Yonhap
Park Jung-oh, head of the North Korean defectors' group Keunsaem, speaks to reporters after attending a unification ministry hearing on whether its license will be revoked, at the Inter-Korean Dialogue Office in Seoul, Monday. / Yonhap
North Korea watchers say that the government's tough stance could lead to the campaigns losing ground here.

On Monday, the Ministry of Unification held a hearing to give two North Korean defectors' groups a final opportunity to justify their actions before it makes a decision on whether to revoke their civic group licenses, following their sending of propaganda leaflets, rice and other items across the border.

"We held a hearing today for Fighters for a Free North Korea and Kuensaem," the ministry said in a press statement. "After checking whether there are any additional documents they need to submit, we will proceed with the license revocation and other related procedures."

If their licenses are annulled, they will not be able to hold official fundraisers. Currently, donors for activist groups are eligible for various tax benefits.

"Individuals can donate, but their contribution could be seen as a donation of their property, which means they may have to pay gift taxes," ministry spokesman Yoh Sang-key said.

The hearing follows complaints by North Korea earlier this month over the Moon Jae-in administration's "failure to implement" the 2018 inter-Korean declaration that among other things bans the spreading of leaflets and loud-speaker broadcasting along the border.

In response, the unification ministry, which vowed to legislate a ban on the leaflet campaign, is in the process of delegitimizing the two organizations. In addition, it has filed a complaint with police against them for violating the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act. Despite the government's announcement of these measures earlier, the North demolished the inter-Korean liaison office in Gaeseong, June 16.

In a related move, police also raided the offices of the two groups Friday and secured documents and devices necessary for its ongoing investigation into the sending of leaflets. It also plans to investigate allegations that group members misused contributions for personal gain.

"If the government exercises its administrative authority, it will restrict activities by the defectors' groups. Some are still set to push ahead with their plans to fly propaganda leaflets, but if they continue to face government regulations, it will be tough for them to continue," said Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

A legal representative for Kuensaem told reporters ahead of the hearing that the ministry's decision to revoke its license was an infringement on the right to freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed under the Constitution, adding that he will file an administrative litigation if the group has its license revoked.

"I think it would be good for the leaflet campaign to get a legal judgment as it will decide which North Korea-linked campaigns will be within legal limits and defectors will be able to hold legitimate events," Shin said.

The distribution of leaflets by activists as well as North Korean defectors has long been a major source of tension between the two Koreas as it has led to exchanges of gunfire in the past.


By Kang Seung-woo

The government is seeking stronger measures against activist and North Korean defectors groups that have been sending anti-North Korea leaflets across the inter-Korean border, stating that their campaigns are not helping to create peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Park Jung-oh, head of the North Korean defectors' group Keunsaem, speaks to reporters after attending a unification ministry hearing on whether its license will be revoked, at the Inter-Korean Dialogue Office in Seoul, Monday. / Yonhap
Park Jung-oh, head of the North Korean defectors' group Keunsaem, speaks to reporters after attending a unification ministry hearing on whether its license will be revoked, at the Inter-Korean Dialogue Office in Seoul, Monday. / Yonhap
North Korea watchers say that the government's tough stance could lead to the campaigns losing ground here.

On Monday, the Ministry of Unification held a hearing to give two North Korean defectors' groups a final opportunity to justify their actions before it makes a decision on whether to revoke their civic group licenses, following their sending of propaganda leaflets, rice and other items across the border.

"We held a hearing today for Fighters for a Free North Korea and Kuensaem," the ministry said in a press statement. "After checking whether there are any additional documents they need to submit, we will proceed with the license revocation and other related procedures."

If their licenses are annulled, they will not be able to hold official fundraisers. Currently, donors for activist groups are eligible for various tax benefits.

"Individuals can donate, but their contribution could be seen as a donation of their property, which means they may have to pay gift taxes," ministry spokesman Yoh Sang-key said.

The hearing follows complaints by North Korea earlier this month over the Moon Jae-in administration's "failure to implement" the 2018 inter-Korean declaration that among other things bans the spreading of leaflets and loud-speaker broadcasting along the border.

In response, the unification ministry, which vowed to legislate a ban on the leaflet campaign, is in the process of delegitimizing the two organizations. In addition, it has filed a complaint with police against them for violating the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act. Despite the government's announcement of these measures earlier, the North demolished the inter-Korean liaison office in Gaeseong, June 16.

In a related move, police also raided the offices of the two groups Friday and secured documents and devices necessary for its ongoing investigation into the sending of leaflets. It also plans to investigate allegations that group members misused contributions for personal gain.

"If the government exercises its administrative authority, it will restrict activities by the defectors' groups. Some are still set to push ahead with their plans to fly propaganda leaflets, but if they continue to face government regulations, it will be tough for them to continue," said Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

A legal representative for Kuensaem told reporters ahead of the hearing that the ministry's decision to revoke its license was an infringement on the right to freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed under the Constitution, adding that he will file an administrative litigation if the group has its license revoked.

"I think it would be good for the leaflet campaign to get a legal judgment as it will decide which North Korea-linked campaigns will be within legal limits and defectors will be able to hold legitimate events," Shin said.

The distribution of leaflets by activists as well as North Korean defectors has long been a major source of tension between the two Koreas as it has led to exchanges of gunfire in the past.


Kang Seung-woo ksw@koreatimes.co.kr

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