North Korea has warned its citizens not to read ballooned propaganda leaflets over the border with the South, saying they could carry the coronavirus.
The state newspaper Rodong Sinmun urged people to stay away from brochures, according to the Yonhap news agency, saying: “Even when we encounter a foreign object flying in the wind, we must consider it as a possible route of transmission of the malicious virus rather than a natural phenomenon.” He advised people to “think and move” in accordance with Covid-19 guidelines.
The warning came the day South Korean police raided the office of an activist who said he had used balloons to launch hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets toward North Korea in defiance of a controversial new law.
Activist Park Sang-hak, a known North Korean defector, is the first person to be investigated since the legislation went into effect in March.
The issue of the propaganda leaflets has emerged as a new source of animosity between the two Koreas, with the North calling it provocative and threatening retaliation.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police said the raid on activist Park Sang-hak’s Seoul office was related to his announcement that his group launched balloons containing 500,000 brochures, 5,000 dollar bills and 500 brochures on the economic development of Korea. South across the border last week.
They declined to provide further details, citing the ongoing investigation.
Park, who rose to fame for his campaign to send brochures across the border, issued a short statement saying that police had arrived at his office. He later told reporters that he would continue to launch balloons despite the new law, which punishes flyers, USB drives or money in flight to North Korea with up to three years in prison.
“Even if they give us three years in prison or even 30 years in prison … we will continue to send out anti-North brochures so that our ragged and starving North Korean compatriots know the truth” about their authoritarian rule, Park said.
South Korean officials have not publicly confirmed that Park sent the brochures. But in a statement on Sunday, Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said defectors in South Korea recently “spread flyers against” the North. He called his action “an intolerable provocation” and said his government would study the corresponding measures.
His statement raised concerns that North Korea might launch some kind of provocation against South Korea. Last year, North Korea blew up an empty inter-Korean liaison office on its territory after Kim Yo-jong reacted furiously to similar propaganda leaflets sent across the border.
North Korea is extremely sensitive to any outside attempts to undermine Kim Jong-un’s leadership and weaken his absolute control over the country’s 26 million people, most of whom have little access to foreign news.
South Korean officials have said they would handle Park in accordance with the law, but any harsh treatment could deepen criticism that South Korea is sacrificing freedom of expression to improve ties with North Korea. Officials say the law is designed to avoid unnecessarily provoking North Korea and promoting the safety of South Korean residents in border areas.
With Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism