Earlier on Monday (14 Dec), the South Korean National Assembly passed a controversial bill that criminalizes activities sending vital information into North Korea, the world’s most heavily censored and repressive police state.
The bill, which was passed into law with 187 votes out of 300 total seats, followed a 24-hour filibustering session and targets groups like Fighters for a Free North Korea, No Chain, and North Korea Strategy Center, composed of defectors from North Korea who are focused on bringing outside information into the most tightly controlled and oppressive totalitarian regime.
“This is a tragedy of catastrophic proportions for the North Korean people. Defectors are the only people capable of representing the voices of the 25 million North Koreans living without access to the Internet, without access to outside mail, or to any uncensored information,” said Thor Halvorssen, President of Human Rights Foundation (HRF).
He continued, “These North Korean defectors – all citizens of South Korea – are exerting their democratic right to freedom of expression, they are also helping the people of North Korea reclaim their fundamental right to receive information.
“This bill is a gift to the North Korea regime in that it silences first-hand voices and witnesses to the crimes of the Kim regime. It is a shameful attempt by the Republic of Korea’s government to discriminate against their fundamental rights and treat the refugee community like second class citizens.”
Ahead of the debate of the bill last Wednesday (9 Dec), the HRF sent a letter to the National Assembly, the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, and the opposition People Power Party, urging them to respect the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association of South Korean citizens who have chosen to demonstrate their discontent with North Korea’s totalitarian regime.
According to the nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, this legislation constitutes a grave violation of the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution of the Republic of Korea, as well as a violation by the Korean government of the universal right to receive information, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
HRF believes that the persecution of North Korean defector-run organizations’ freedom of association and expression will set back South Korea’s record as a democratic nation.
As it narrowly targets a specific group of South Korean citizens of North Korean origin, the bill is discriminatory and does not properly balance the government’s legitimate interest to protect its national security with the key democratic interest to protect the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association of all South Korean citizens.
“This legislation will go down in history as a tool to repress North Korean human rights activists and a historical case which violates North Korean citizens’ right to knowledge,” said Ji Seong-ho, a member of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Reunification Committee and one of the first North Korean defectors recently elected into South Korea’s national assembly.
“We ask the international community to speak up against the unjustness of this bill going into force,” he added.