South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s progressive camp passed legislation that criminalizes sending leaflets to North Korea, months after Kim Jong Un’s regime demanded action to stop the “human scum” behind the messages.
Moon’s Democratic Party and its allies, who wield a supermajority in parliament since an election in April, passed the “anti-leaflet” bill late Monday on a mostly party-line vote. Backers have said the leaflets conflict with agreements between the two Koreas and cast a pall over negotiations with Pyongyang.
Conservatives launched a filibuster trying to halt the legislation and human rights groups have argued that it limits constitutionally protected free speech. The main conservative opposition People Power Party has said it might challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.
The bill calls for prison sentences of as long as three years for those convicted of sending leaflets across the border to North Korea. It also bans propaganda broadcasts and anti-Pyongyang material postings at the inter-Korean border.
While millions of leaflets have been flown across the border for more than a decade, Pyongyang stepped up its pressure on Moon over the messages around June — a little more than a month after reports on Kim’s health raised questions about his grip on power. Defector-led groups largely responsible for the leaflets often include cash, rice and USB memory sticks to entice North Koreans to retrieve the balloons.
Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s sister, warned in June that Moon’s government would pay a “dear price” if it continued to allow “mongrel dogs” to send the leaflets. Shortly after, North Korea blew up a $15 million joint liaison office built by South Korea north of the border that served as a de facto embassy — destroying one of the most tangible symbols of Moon’s rapprochement efforts.
US President-elect Joe Biden is set to shake up relations with Kim Jong Un. Biden has said he wants to “jump start” a campaign with US allies and others for denuclearization, and move away from the personal diplomacy embraced by outgoing President Donald Trump and Moon, which led to high-profile summits but no tangible steps to wind down Kim’s nuclear program.