SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean police on Thursday raided the office of an activist who said he had floated hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets toward North Korea by balloon in defiance of a contentious new law that bans such activities.
The issue of propaganda leaflets has emerged as a new source of animosity between the two Koreas, with North Korea calling it a provocation and threatening to retaliate.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police said the raid on the Seoul office of activist Park Sang-hak was related to his announcement that his group launched balloons carrying 500,000 leaflets, 5,000 one-dollar bills and 500 booklets about South Korea’s economic development across the border last week.
They refused to provide details, citing the ongoing investigation.
Park, a North Korean defector who rose to fame because of his campaign to send leaflets across the border, issued a brief statement saying police had arrived at his office. He later told reporters that he would keep launching balloons despite the law that punishes flying leaflets, USB drives or money into North Korea with up to three years in prison.
“Even if we get three years in prison or even 30 years in prison … we’ll continue to send anti-North leaflets to let our ragged, starving compatriots in North Korea know the truth” about their authoritarian government, Park said.
He became the first person to be investigated under the law since it took effect in March.
South Korean officials haven’t publicly confirmed that Park had in fact sent the leaflets. But in a statement Sunday, Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said North Korean defectors in South Korea recently “scattered leaflets against” the North. She called their action “an intolerable provocation” and said her government would look into corresponding measures.
Her statement caused concern that North Korea might launch some sort of provocation against South Korea. Last year, North Korea blew up an empty inter-Korean liaison office on its territory after Kim Yo Jong reacted furiously to similar propaganda leaflets sent into North Korea.
North Korea is extremely sensitive about any outside attempt to undermine Kim Jong Un’s leadership and weaken his absolute control over the country’s 26 million people, most of whom have little access to foreign news.
South Korean officials have said they would handle Park in line with the law, but any harsh treatment could deepen criticism that South Korea is sacrificing freedom of speech to improve ties with rival North Korea. Officials say the law is designed to avoid unnecessarily provoking North Korea and promote the safety of South Korean residents in border areas.