Press Release — HRF: Balloon Launches Into North Korea Will Proceed Despite Death Threats

Press Releases
HRF: Balloon Launches Into North Korea Will Proceed Despite Death Threats
January 19, 2015
SEOUL — The North Korean government is once again issuing threats against activists who are sending information into the hermit kingdom.

Earlier this month, activists launched 20 balloons carrying 600,000 leaflets from the South Korean border town of Daegwangri. The North Korean government responded by calling the activists “human scum,” and demanded that South Korea stop the distribution of the leaflets or risk the end of "dialogue." The Kim regime specifically threatened Park Sang Hak, a Seoul-based defector and partner of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), saying that he would "pay for his crimes in blood" if he sent copies of the film “The Interview” into the North.

Despite these and previous threats, HRF will proceed with launching balloons carrying leaflets, transistor radios, media and cultural artifacts into North Korea this week, as part of a broader effort to help defector groups break the Kim regime’s monopoly on information.

“Kim Jong Un’s regime, displaying the hallmarks of narcissism and psychopathy, threatens activists with death and tries to bully the international community by saying that it will halt dialogue unless these balloons are stopped,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “HRF is not a government, multi-lateral agency or part of the United Nations. We are an independent civil society organization made up of individuals devoted to nonviolence, education and the defense of human rights, especially freedom of speech and assembly. These rights are non-negotiable," said Halvorssen.

Mr. Park, who serves as president of Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK), uses balloons to reach the country's information-starved citizens. The leaflets denounce the Kim regime for causing extreme poverty. “This is freedom of expression; we’re telling the starving, hungry and freezing North Korean citizens the truth,” said Park.

“The 'Democratic People’s Republic of Korea' is in reality a 66-year-old police state where one family rules, pretending to be gods, expecting to be worshipped, and hoping to get away with it. The deafening silence of governments and the United Nations is intolerable. If talks will take place between North and South, they must address the suffering that the North Korean government inflicts on 25 million people,” said HRF COO Sarah Wasserman.

HRF has supported the work of North Korean defectors since 2009, by hosting them at the Oslo Freedom Forum, bringing them to Silicon Valley to meet investors and technologists, participating in informational balloon launches, and creating the world’s first hackathon for North Korea.

HRF recently launched HackThemBack, an online crowd funding campaign to support North Korean defector groups that send information into their homeland through radio broadcasts, black markets and balloons. More than $50,000 has already been raised. As part of this effort, HRF intends to put 100,000 copies of “The Interview,” along with a variety of other media, into North Korea.

In June 2013, the South Korean government stopped HRF from proceeding with a balloon launch. However, in a remarkable display of its commitment to freedom, the South Korean government has responded to North Korea's latest threats by revealing that it will not stop the balloon launches. “The government’s stance remains unchanged and it cannot restrict freedom of expression of its citizens… Taking action against them will violate the freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Constitution,” a South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman said last week.

The Kim regime is widely acknowledged as the world’s most oppressive government, using gulags, public executions, pervasive spying and guilt-by-association punishment to instill fear among its citizenry. The government prohibits access to the internet, and exerts complete control over media, history, and culture. Top regime officials live in luxury, while the average North Korean citizen struggles on a daily basis to obtain enough food to survive. Learn more about North Korea by watching Oslo Freedom Forum talks from Hyeonseo Lee, Barbara Demick, Hannah Song, Park Sang Hak, Kang Chol-hwan, and Yeonmi Park.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Contact: Jamie Hancock, (212) 246-8486, jamie@thehrf.org

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