Dr. Paik Jang-hyun,Professor at Hanshin University,Senior researcher at the Catholic Institute of Northeast Asia Peace (CINAP) ©YONHAP NEWS An amendment banning the sending of leaflets over the border to North Korea was passed by the South Korean National Assembly in December. In the 1991 Inter-Korean Basic Agreement (Chapter 1 Article 3, “The two sides shall not slander or vilify each other”) and in the 2018 Panmunjeom Declaration (Chapter 2 Article 1, “South and North Korea agreed to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict”) the two Koreas agreed to stop mutual slander and their agreement became law. The gist of the anti-leaflet law is that “in the military demarcation line area,” those who violate the Inter-Korean agreements by “distribution of leaflets, etc.” “shall be sentenced to not more than three years in prison or 30 million won in fines.” Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (US Congress) In response, the amendment has been met with organized backlash from within Korea and from abroad. * The People Power Party and right-wing North Korean defectors’ groups assert that this law is effectively a submission to North Korean intimidation, an infringement on the freedom of expression, and a forcible silencing regarding the issue of human rights in North Korea, covering the eyes and ears of the North Korean people and closing them off from the outside world. Internationally, US Deputy Secretary of State Biegun released a statement saying that he had expressed concerns regarding the law to the Korean government, and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US House of Representatives announced plans to hold a hearing in January to review this law. *the People Power Party is conservative party in S. Korea. The claim of infringement on the freedom of expression©OHMYNEWS Opponents to this law claim that it infringes on the right to the freedom of expression. However, the freedom of expression is not unlimited, but Article 37 of the Korean constitution stipulates that “The freedoms and rights of citizens may be restricted by Act only when necessary for national security, the maintenance of law and order or for public welfare.” The sending of provocative, obscene leaflets that insult the North Korean leadership near the Military Demarcation Line, where North and South Korea are facing off muzzle to muzzle, threatens to trigger military tensions, threatens the safety of the citizens who live in the area, and also causes a big disruption in the livelihoods of those who depend on tourism. Does the freedom of expression extend to protect the right of the leafletting organizations to throw into danger the millions of citizens who live in the surrounding area? Notably, the anti-leaflet law applies only to the areas surrounding the Military Demarcation Line and does not apply to leafletting in other areas. The claim of those who oppose this law and say that it infringes on the freedom of expression is nothing but sophistry that distorts the spirit of the constitution. The claim of infringement on North Koreans’ right to information North Korean woman watching DVD at Pyongyang Central Library ©Getty image Next, they are spreading the assertion that the leaflets are a powerful method for providing information from the outside world to North Korea, where information is strictly regulated, and that banning the leaflets infringes on the right of the people of North Korea to that information and closes off their access to the outside. Is this right? Information is strictly regulated in North Korea, but since the mid-1990s, ‘Jangmadang’ markets have sprung up and much information has become available from outside. First DVDs and recently the more convenient USBs with South Korean dramas, movies, songs, etc. have flowed, almost limitlessly through the border with China. So much so, that when it comes to North Korean defectors who left after 2000, it is hard to find someone who had not seen South Korean dramas, movies and songs. In this situation, the extreme right organizations are asserting that the vulgar contents of their leaflets are a powerful way for North Koreans to access outside information. I don’t know how in the world they can stubbornly hold this claim which so underestimates the North Korean people. Additionally, it is known that funding from organizations connected to the US State Department is used for the sending of leaflets to North Korea. If this is true, their behavior can only be seen as the actions of obedient puppets hoping to eat crumbs from the table of the military industrial complex which benefits from military tensions on the Korean peninsula. Representative Ji Seong-ho of the People Power Party and many other representatives of extreme right defectors’ organizations have visited the United States together, criticized the Korean government’s peace process policies, and lobbied for the anti-leaflet law to be stopped. It is really regrettable that such an action was taken by North Korean defectors, who as the greatest victims in the division of the Korean Peninsula should actively seek reconciliation, exchange, and eventual reunification between the North and the South. They must realize that due to their individual understandings, they are causing considerable harm to their fellow defectors. Ji Seong-ho of the People Power Party is holding a meeting members of the US State Department. ©Ji Seong-ho's office On the other hand, the funding by organizations affiliated with the US State Department of extreme right organizations that interfere in the peace process of the South Korean government is a violation of international law and constitutes interference in domestic affairs. In international law, each country is clearly forbidden from interfering in another country by inciting, organizing, or funding harmful organizations. The claim that the government is imposing silence regarding human rights in North Korea North Korean refugee groups are distributing anti-leaflet ©Hankyore Finally, does the claim make sense that the above law is imposing silence regarding human rights in North Korea? The sending of leaflets to North Korea has continued for decades, but up until now there has been no evidence that it has caused any improvement in human rights in North Korea. To the contrary, the testimony is more convincing that because of the leafletting, those who carry it out are denounced in North Korea, and it creates a difficult situation for their families who remain in the North. North-South exchanges and increased contact between North Korean society and international society will be more effective to improve human rights in North Korea. Because of the leaflets which insult the leadership of North Korea, exchanges between the North and South get cancelled and it only makes the situation worse. It is well known that the human rights conditions in North Korea are serious. Human rights are a universal right, so activism for human rights must extend beyond state borders and international solidarity is necessary. However, the subjects of the improvement of human rights in North Korea must be North Koreans, so international society must take the role of observation and promotion to improve human rights in North Korea. When international society distrusts the North Korean leadership and comes to possess a distorted sense of calling, it can result in a worsening of human rights. All discussions and approaches regarding human rights in North Korea must take into account any cases in which the human rights situation in North Korea has been improved in substance.