The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Right choice eventually prevails

Constitutional Court rules ban on sending leaflets to NK unconstitutional

By Korea Herald

Published : Sept. 28, 2023 - 05:30

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The Constitutional Court ruled a ban on sending propaganda leaflets to North Korea is unconstitutional.

It comes as another belated -- but correct -- decision after the Supreme Court ruled in April that anti-North Korea leaflets played a positive role in providing information to North Koreans about their reality.

At the time the ban was introduced, the Moon Jae-in administration and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea faced severe criticism for legislating the ban as North Korea demanded, but they pushed it through regardless.

Under the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act that made it illegal to send leaflets to North Korea, offenders can be sentenced to up to three years in prison or face fines of up to 30 million won ($22,000).

North Koreans are cut off completely from the outside world by the Kim Jong-un regime. It is hard to understand legislation that punishes those who let them know what their life is really like. Freedom of expression is a basic constitutional right and a pillar of democracy. But the previous Moon administration created a law that puts South Korean people in jail, kowtowing to the North.

Seven of nine Constitutional Court justices ruled the ban unconstitutional, saying it allows the state to excessively exercise its power to punish people and that the ban is too restrictive on the freedom of political expression.

The law went through the National Assembly on Dec. 14, 2020 and was promulgated five days later.

On the day of promulgation, Park Sang-hak, chair of Fighters for a Free North Korea, and 27 other groups campaigning for human rights in North Korea filed a petition with the Constitutional Court to challenge the ban.

The law cites the safety of residents of the border area. In 2014, North Korea fired anti-aircraft guns at leaflet-filled balloons flying northward from near the western border with South Korea. The Moon government did not properly object to North Korea's actions or stance, and instead opted to restrict people's constitutional freedoms.

Fighters for a Free North Korea flew balloons containing leaflets to North Korea on May 31, 2020. It was not illegal at the time.

Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, asked the South in a statement on June 4 to "do anything, like making a law, to block them from sending leaflets." The Moon administration replied in four hours that it was working on a bill. It canceled the permission of Park's group 43 days after younger Kim issued the demand. The majority Democratic Party then passed the law unilaterally in December that year.

In April, the Supreme Court reversed a lower-court decision that it was valid to cancel the permission of Fighters for a Free North Korea to send leaflets to North Korea. The top court ruled that it is hard to say that anti-North Korea leaflets cause a serious danger to people's lives. It also ruled that they played a role of informing isolated North Korean residents of their human rights situation and the outside world.

The nation's top two judicial institutions have now ruled against the law.

From the beginning, the ban was unreasonable and unconstitutional. It was not difficult to see that it was unconstitutional, but it took nearly three years for the Constitutional Court to arrive at the decision. Most of its justices once belonged to groups of left-leaning judges or lawyers. It is uncertain whether they put off the ruling on purpose. Under the current Yoon Suk Yeol administration, two of the justices were replaced and the ruling against the ban was finally made. The court's responsibility for neglecting the case for years should not be minimized.

The law further isolated North Korean residents and aided the Kim dictatorship. It is right, though belated, that the ban was ruled unconstitutional and thrown out immediately.

Wrong cannot last long.