Activist says he flew 500K leaflets across Koreas' border

FILE - In this April 15, 2011, file photo, Park Sang-hak, center, a refugee from the North who now runs the group Fighters for a Free North Korea from a small Seoul office, and South Korean conservative activists prepare to release balloons bearing leaflets condemning North Korean leader during an anti-North Korea rally against "The Day of the Sun," the anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth 99 years, at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea. Park said Friday, April 30, 2021, he launched 500,000 propaganda leaflets by balloon into North Korea this week in defiance of a contentious new law that criminalizes such actions. The balloons read "Overthrow Kim Jong Il's dictatorship." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, file)
FILE - In this April 15, 2011, file photo, Park Sang-hak, center, a refugee from the North who now runs the group Fighters for a Free North Korea from a small Seoul office, and South Korean conservative activists prepare to release balloons bearing leaflets condemning North Korean leader during an anti-North Korea rally against "The Day of the Sun," the anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth 99 years, at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea. Park said Friday, April 30, 2021, he launched 500,000 propaganda leaflets by balloon into North Korea this week in defiance of a contentious new law that criminalizes such actions. The balloons read "Overthrow Kim Jong Il's dictatorship." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, file) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SEOUL – A South Korean activist said Friday he launched 500,000 propaganda leaflets by balloon into North Korea this week in defiance of a contentious new law that criminalizes such actions.

If confirmed, Park Sang-hak's action would be the first known violation of the law that punishes anti-Pyongyang leafleting with up to three years in prison or a fine of 30 million won ($27,040). The law that took effect last month has invited criticism South Korea is sacrificing freedom of expression to improve ties with rival North Korea, which has repeatedly protested the leafleting.

Front-line police stations in Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces said they couldn’t immediately confirm if Park sent balloons from their areas, which Park said he used in two launches this week. Cha Duck Chul, a deputy spokesman at Seoul’s Unification Ministry, said the government would handle the case in line with the objective of the law, though police and military authorities were still working to confirm Park’s statement.

Park said his organization floated 10 huge balloons carrying the leaflets, 500 booklets critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government, and 5,000 one-dollar bills from sites near the border with North Korea. He would not disclose the exact locations in the two border provinces, citing worries police would stop future attempts.

“Though (authorities) can handcuff and put me to a prison cell, they cannot stop (my leafleting) with whatever threats or violence as long as the North Korean people waits for the letters of freedom, truth and hopes,” said Park, a North Korean defector known for years of leafleting campaigns.

Park called the anti-leafleting legislation “the worst law” that “sides with cruel human rights abuser Kim Jong Un and covers the eyes and ears of the North Korean people that have become the modern-day slaves of the Kim dynasty.”

Video released by Park showed him releasing a balloon with leaflets toward a dark sky. He is seen standing with a sign that partly reads, “The world condemns Kim Jong Un who is crazy for nuclear and rocket provocations."

The anti-leafleting legislation was passed in December in Parliament, where lawmakers supporting President Moon Jae-in’s engagement policy on North Korea hold a three-fifths supermajority. It went into effect in late March.