Defectors cornered by both South and N Korea over leaflets

04-Jul-2020 Intellasia | KoreaTimes | 8:44 AM Print This Post

North Korean defectors are seemingly becoming “enemies of the state” in both South and North Korea due to their harshly denounced distribution of anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the border from the South.

In the North, they are considered “human scum” working to damage the prestige of its “supreme leader” with the leaflets, while in the South, they are viewed as the cause of the current frayed inter-Korean relations.

Since Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, issued a statement, June 4, criticising the propaganda campaigns by North Korean defectors and calling them “mongrel dogs,” North Korean authorities have created an anti-defector atmosphere by staging mass rallies against them.

As a result, the public sentiment regarding defectors’ families remaining in the North is sharply turning negative, according to North Korea watchers.

“While most people are poverty-stricken amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit the national economy hard, relatives of those who fled the regime are more affluent thanks to money sent from their family members in the South. As a result, there were growing complaints from North Korean people that families of those who betrayed the country are better off, which was reported to the ruling party,” Kim Heung-kwang, chief of the Seoul-based North Korea Intellectual Solidarity, told The Korea Times. He was a computer science professor at Hamhung Computer Technology University in the North before coming to the South.

“In order to shatter the envy toward those who defected to the South and are living well, the leader’s sister released the fiery statement, followed by other senior officials,” he added.

The North Korean regime has also tightened its monitoring of those who are left behind, with them put under the watchful scrutiny of an agency from the central government instead of a local organisation.

Kim Heung-kwang said the enhanced inspection has prevented some defectors from sending money to their families still in the North. Usually, they send money home through brokers, who are mostly overseas?Chinese.

According to the Seoul-based Database centre for North Korean Human Rights, 264 out of 431 polled defectors had sent money to their families in the North as of last year, with the amount ranging from 250,000 won ($208) to 23 million won a year.

“Due to the strengthened surveillance in the North, the brokers also had to shrink away and the exiles were not able to forward money for a time,” Kim said.

However, given that the defector-sent money is used to finance market and factory operations in North Korea, the remittance is getting back on track, he added.

Angered by the anti-North leaflets that criticise its leader over his nuclear ambitions and human rights abuses, the North demolished the South-North joint liaison office in Gaeseong last month, a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, sharply heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula and intensifying public criticism against defectors.

In response, the South Korean government is in the process of dismantling two major defectors’ groups which have been leading the propaganda campaigns, while filing a complaint with police against them for violating the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act that bans the sending of goods to North Korea without government permission.

If their licenses are annulled, they will not be able to hold official fundraisers. Currently, donors for activist groups are eligible for various tax benefits.

Many believe the government’s tough stance may hinder defectors’ anti-North campaigns such as sending propaganda leaflets across the border tethered to balloons or broadcasting diatribes over shortwave radio.

“Since the beginning of the Moon Jae-in administration in May 2017, government support has nearly stopped for defectors’ groups that are critical of the Kim regime. The leaflet campaign seems to be the government’s main target, but Free North Korea Radio that airs shortwave transmissions of information critical of the Kim regime is also likely to be affected,” An Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who heads the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told The Korea Times.

“As organisations involved in improving the human rights situation of the North Korean people face many restrictions, other than groups focusing on reunification, anti-North campaigns may die out.”


Category: Korea

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