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South Korea: Government Values Diplomacy over Freedom of Speech Regarding Propaganda to the North

(Nov. 26, 2008) South Korean civic groups, such as the Fighters for Free North Korea and the Family Assembly Abducted to North Korea [sic], are reportedly sending about ten million copies of leaflets to North Korea in balloons every year. The leaflets contain messages stating, for example, that Kim Jong-il has suffered a stroke or that Kim was feasting while three million North Koreans starved to death. Since October 2, 2008, when it first complained about the leafleting at an inter-Korean military meeting, North Korea has demanded that the South Korean government stop the civic groups' activities, warning that failure to do so would hurt inter-Korean economic cooperation.

The South Korean government has requested the activists not to send leaflets to North Korea, although the government had no clear legal basis for that request; thus far the groups have not complied with the request. The government is therefore seeking legal grounds to stop activists from sending the propaganda leaflets to North Korea. For example, the relevant government authorities examined the High Pressure Gas Safety Control Act (Act. No. 3703, Dec. 31, 1983, as amended), under whose provisions the government can revoke permission to use high-pressure gas when it is feared its use might cause damage. Legal experts, however, have pointed out that the Act would not be applicable to the North Korea-bound balloons, because they are unlikely to cause damage. (Stop Propaganda Leaflets or Else, N. Korea Warns, CHOSUNILBO, Oct. 28, 2008, available at; Seoul Seeking to Halt Propaganda Leaflets to N. Korea, CHOSUNILBO, Nov.18, 2008, available at; High Pressure Gas Safety Control Act [summary of 2002 amendment], 15057 KWANBO [official gazette] 50-54 (Mar. 25, 2002), available at