North Korean defectors and activists urged President Joe Biden to ramp up pressure on North Korea over human rights as South Korean President Moon Jae-in with the U.S. president in Washington DC.
Activists and defectors called for Biden to swiftly appoint a special envoy on North Korean human rights and to stand up for their freedom of speech in South Korea.
Activists had for decades sent the leaflets, alongside food, medicine, $1 bills, mini radios and USB sticks containing South Korean news and dramas, to raise awareness among ordinary North Koreans over what they call the regime’s tyranny and human rights.
“We have evidence that North Koreans are waiting for those leaflets to get to them, and that the North Korean regime is in fear of loose leaflets getting to the people,” said Park Sang-hak, who was investigated by police last week on charges of breaching the ban.
Biden and Moon have pledged to work together to continue the effort to denuclearize North Korea. As part of this process, Biden announced that Sung Kim will serve as the U.S. special envoy for North Korea. Sung Kim is a career diplomat and a former ambassador to South Korea.
In late April, a North Korean defector sent 500,000 propaganda leaflets by balloon from South Korea into his former country. Park Sang-hak said he and his organization sent 10 balloons that carried leaflets criticizing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government, and 5,000 $1 bills, from an area near the border.
If law enforcement pursues Park under the new South Korean law that prohibits leafleting to North Korea, it would be the first known violation, as he is defying a new law that could result in a $27,040 fine or up to three years in prison, the Associated Press reported.
“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, according to AP.
The law was a subject of debate in the U.S. with lawmakers some of which called the legislation a violation of democratic freedoms. “What I really think is extremely alarming is a retreat by the South Korean government from its long-standing commitment to human rights vis-à-vis North Korea and China, ostensibly in the cause of fostering better relations or achieving nuclear nonproliferation,” Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said. Other U.S. lawmakers argued that the leafleting campaigns are aggressive and provocative toward North Korea and that it could put South Koreans living near the border at risk.
Park, who is known for years of leafleting campaigns, 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.”
Ex-US-Marine Christopher Ahn is out on bail and shows his electronic monitoring device placed on him by U.S. marshals. How did Ahn wind up in this situation? He is an unlikely person to be treated as a criminal by his own government. Burly and bearded, he is described by family friends in court filings as a “happy-go-lucky guy who is like a teddy bear inside.” A son of Korean immigrants, Ahn has been taking care of his family since he was 17, when his father died of cancer. He now takes care of his ailing mother, who has a debilitating nerve disease, and his 97-year-old, blind grandmother, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s.
It is Ahn’s altruistic impulse that now threatens his freedom. In 2009, Ahn met a charismatic Yale dropout named Adrian Hong who had created a human rights group to help North Korean refugees. Eventually, Hong founded another group, called Free Joseon. Ahn is in his current predicament because of a call he received from Hong in early 2019 — this time to help facilitate the defection of North Korean diplomats in Madrid.
Responding to an extradition request from Spain, the Justice Department decided to arrest Hong at a time when then-President Donald Trump was seeking to strike a deal with Kim Jong Un. Ahn went to Hong’s apartment in Los Angeles only to discover that a heavily armed task force of U.S. marshals was there looking for Hong. (Hong, who had fled, is now a fugitive from the governments of Spain, North Korea and the United States.) Ahn was then arrested and spent three months in a federal jail.
Now, a pro bono lawyer is helping Ahn fight the Justice Department’s attempts to extradite him to Spain. (The standard to extradite him is relatively low — prosecutors need only prove “probable cause” that the charges are true.) If convicted by a Spanish court on charges including kidnapping, breaking and entering, battery and being part of a “criminal organization,” he could be imprisoned for 21 years.
Ahn is, above all, an idealist. The bitter irony is that in trying to grant North Koreans their freedom, Ahn might have sacrificed his own.
Joe Biden, in his first address to Congress, called North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs “serious threats” to American and world security and said he’ll work with allies to address those problems through diplomacy and stern deterrence.
“His statement clearly reflects his intent to keep enforcing the hostile policy toward the DPRK as it had been done by the U.S. for over half a century,” Kwon Jong Gun, a senior North Korean Foreign Ministry official, later said in a statement. “Now that the keynote of the U.S. … policy has become clear, we will be compelled to press for corresponding measures, and with time the U.S. will find itself in a very grave situation,” Kwon said. He didn’t specify what steps North Korea would take.
An unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman vowed a strong, separate response to a recent State Department statement that it would push to promote “accountability for the Kim regime” over its “egregious human rights situation.” He called the statement a preparation for “all-out showdown with us.”
Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, also slammed South Korea over anti-Pyongyang leaflets floated across the border by a group of North Korean defectors in the South. The group’s leader, Park Sang-hak, said Friday he sent 500,000 leaflets by balloon last week, in a defiance of a new, contentious South Korean law that criminalizes such action. “We regard the maneuvers committed by the human waste in the South as a serious provocation against our state and will look into corresponding action,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement. She accused the South Korean government of “winking at” the leaflets.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said the North Korean statements indicate that “Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States” ahead of the May 21 summit between Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
After months of closed-door talks, President Joe Biden’s administration has completed its review of North Korea policy, charting a path forward that rejects both of his immediate predecessors’ stances on the nuclear-armed rogue state.
Kim Jong Un, the totalitarian leader in Pyongyang, has tested Biden once with a launch of two short-range ballistic missiles and urged the U.S. to drop its push for denuclearization.
But the White House said Friday that its “goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, with the clear understanding that the efforts of the past four administration have not achieved this objective.”
This was a shot not just at Donald Trump, but also Barack Obama, Biden’s old boss. The new policy says Biden will not “rely on strategic patience,” the term that defined the Obama era approach of hoping U.S. and United Nations sanctions would ultimately put the screws to the North Korean government.
While the Biden administration hasn’t provided full details, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday they will deploy a “calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK and to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies and deployed forces.”
Biden will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on May 21, just the second world leader that Biden will host early in his term, after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited on April 16.