South Korea hit by human rights watch over leaflet crackdown
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said a decision by South Korea to revoke the licenses and seek prosecution for the groups is a blow against the campaign to hold North Korea accountable for its human rights violations for the sake of political expediency.Updated: Jun 11, 2020 15:02 IST
A top official at a global human rights organization criticized South Korea for trying to shut down two activist groups who sent anti-Kim Jong Un leaflets by balloon across the border into North Korea.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said a decision by South Korea to revoke the licenses and seek prosecution for the groups is a blow against the campaign to hold North Korea accountable for its human rights violations for the sake of political expediency.
The moves against the activists are “a blatant violation of freedom of association that cannot be justified with vague appeals to border security and relations with the North,” he said in a statement Thursday.
His comments came the day after South Korea’s Unification Ministry said the government plans to cancel the licenses of two groups -- Fighters for Free North Korea and KeunSaem -- that sent balloons with leaflets across the border, and ask prosecutors whether they can bring charges on suspicion of violating an inter-Korean exchange law. Officials from the groups have not responded to requests to comment.
While millions of leaflets have been flown across the border for more than a decade, Pyongyang in recent days slammed South Korean President Moon Jae-in for letting groups that include North Korean defectors send the leaflets into its territory.
On Tuesday, it cut off communications links set up with its neighbor about two years ago, in an expression of its anger. Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korea’s leader, previously accused South Korea of tolerating a “sordid and wicked act of hostility.”
North Korea Cuts Off Communications With Seoul Over Leaflets
Moon’s office expressed “deep regrets” over activists groups that send leaflets condemning Kim Jong Un toward North Korean territory and will actively seek legal procedures to punish them, Kim You-geun, a senior official at the National Security Council, said at a Thursday briefing.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry in a text message Thursday said its official position hasn’t changed from the previous day, when it announced it would seek legal action against the two groups.
“Rather than kowtow to threats from Kim Jong Un’s sister, South Korea should call for Pyongyang to open uncensored and unrestricted channels for communication between people across the 38th parallel,” Robertson said.
Moon, a former human rights lawyer, has made a fresh push to restore economic and other exchanges with North Korea after his ruling progressive camp scored a supermajority in parliamentary elections in April.
But Moon doesn’t have much he can offer North Korea without prompting a blowup from the Trump administration, which has repeatedly rejected Seoul’s calls for sanctions relief. The US has refused to relax United Nations penalties and other measures against the regime without greater commitments on arms reduction from Kim Jong Un.
The United Nations special rapporteur for North Korea has said the country systematically abuses the rights of its citizens and denies them basic freedoms, while the US State Department accuses Pyongyang of a brutal campaign to crush dissent through political prisons, torture and executions.
South Korean activist groups have accused Moon of downplaying abuses north of the border so as not to upset relations with Kim Jong Un.