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Rights watchdog says gov't shouldn't ban anti-N.K. leaflets

2015/02/09 09:15

SEOUL, Feb. 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's human rights watchdog has decided to advise the government against banning the privately organized spread of anti-North Korea leaflets across the inter-Korean border, sources said Monday.

The scattering by local activist groups has often caused fierce backlash from the communist nation. Last October, the launch of balloons carrying these leaflets incited Pyongyang to fire machine guns at them, with some of the rounds falling near a town lying south of the Demilitarized Zone.

Residents in South Korean border towns have rallied against the campaigns, although the groups, mostly comprised of North Korean refugees, have gone on unfazed. Seoul says it can't stop leaflet launches because it is a matter of free speech.

The sources at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) said eight out of 11 standing committee members sided with the groups at a plenary meeting on Jan. 26. This means the commission will send a statement to the government asking it not to crack down on or ban leaflet scattering.

Two committee members voted against it, while the remaining one abstained, the sources added.

Proponents of the campaign cited freedom of speech to back up their claims.

"The privately organized spread of propaganda leaflets is a form of free speech protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," the sources quoted the final statement as saying. "Restricting these scatterings is like listening to the North's demands at the expense of South Koreans' human rights."

   The opponents said the safety of border town residents outweighs freedom of speech.

"Inhibiting the campaign does not violate the freedom of speech because saving residents' lives and their safety is for the greater common good," Jang Myung-sook, one of the two opponents, said.

An NHRCK official, who requested anonymity, also said the fact that eight committee members voted against banning the leaflets just shows the political bias of the institution.