SEOUL, Sept. 26 (Korea Bizwire) – The Constitutional Court on Tuesday struck down the law banning the sending of propaganda leaflets into North Korea, 2 1/2 years after the law went into force.
The revised Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act went into effect in March 2021 to prohibit the launching of anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border, with violators subject to a maximum prison term of three years or a fine of 30 million won (US$22,172).
The revision was made under the previous liberal Moon Jae-in administration on the grounds that such leafleting could provoke the North to undertake bellicose acts and put border town residents’ safety in the South at risk. But critics had said the law stifles freedom of expression.
A group of civic groups on North Korean human rights, including Park Sang-hak who leads Fighters for a Free North Korea, filed a constitutional petition against the law on the day of its promulgation.
On Tuesday, the court ruled the law unconstitutional in a 7-2 vote, saying it excessively restricts the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression. The decision led to the law’s immediate annulment.
“The law’s goal of ensuring the safety of people’s lives and bodies constitutes an important public interest … but the restriction of freedom of expression inflicted on those involved is disproportionally big,” judges said.
Judges noted that such a goal can be achieved even without a blanket ban on leafleting through alternative means, such as police activities or systems regulating leaflet sending.
In South Korea, North Korean defector groups, like Fighters for a Free North Korea, send big plastic balloons carrying leaflets over to the North in what they say is a bid to free North Korean people from the tyrannical North Korean regime with outside information.
But the campaigns have been a recurring source of conflict between South and North Korea.
In June, 2020, the North blew up the joint liaison office in Kaesong in anger over Seoul’s failure to stop North Korean defectors from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.