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Foreign minister defends law banning propaganda leaflets

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha / Korea Times file
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha / Korea Times file
Kang says 'freedom of expression is not absolute'

By Kang Seung-woo

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha defended a newly passed law that bans anti-North Korea leaflet campaigns from growing criticism, Thursday, citing the security of people living in border regions.

Her defense came amid complaints from international human rights groups and some U.S. politicians over the South Korean government's increasingly weak stance on human rights violations and accountability in the North.

Earlier this week, the National Assembly passed the bill that prevents mainly North Korean defectors and human rights activists from flying propaganda leaflets or other materials critical of the Kim Jong-un regime over the border into the North. The government and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea claim the new law will help protect residents in border regions and ease cross-border tension.

"Because this is happening in a very sensitive area, the most militarized zone in the whole world with people living right next to the border area," Kang said in an interview with CNN.

Citing a 2014 cross-border gunfire exchange and the demolition of an inter-Korean liaison office in June, which she claimed were due to the leaflets, she added, "So in an area, highly militarily tense area, anything can go wrong and lead to even bigger clashes. And the people living near the border have been asking that these activities stop for years."

The foreign minister admitted that there was an argument denouncing the law as restricting freedom of expression, but she also said this could be limited in certain cases.

"Freedom of expression, I think, is absolutely a vital human right. But it's not absolute. It can be limited according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). But it has to be by law. It has to be limited in scope. And it is limited in scope. It is only used when these acts pose harm or pose danger to the life and the security of our people," Kang said.

Last week, Chris Smith, a veteran Republican Congressman, said the law that he believes criminalizes humanitarian outreach to the North, was in violation of the South's Constitution and its obligations under the ICCPR, denouncing it as "inane legislation."

Earlier this month, the New York-based Human Rights Watch also accused the anti-leaflet bill of violating South Koreans' rights to freedom of expression and making engaging in humanitarianism and human rights activism a criminal offense.

Regarding the resurgence of COVID-19 here, the foreign minister said complacency led to the increase in coronavirus cases. On Thursday, the nation's daily coronavirus cases stood at 1,014, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

"And I have to say, I think there was a little bit of complacency setting in after the successes and of course, our experience in the way we handled this being touted as a success by the foreign media. I think perhaps that led to a certain amount of complacency," Kang said.



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