The Constitutional Court of South Korea on Tuesday struck down a provision of the Law on the Development of Inter-Korean Relations which prohibits the distribution of leaflets in North Korea and imposes penalties on violators, known as the North Korea Leaflet Ban Act.
This decision comes after two years since South Korean organizations started advocating for the rights of North Koreans and defectors submitted a constitutional petition in December 2020, asserting that said law infringes upon fundamental rights, such as the freedom of expression. The North Korea Leaflet Ban Act was enacted by South Korea in December 2020. It prohibited actions that could cause harm to people or their bodies through the distribution of leaflets to the North. Violations or those who attempted to violate the law were subject to fines or imprisonment of up three years. They pointed out that they were restricted because their content could provoke North Korea. This is due to the tight control of information flowing from outside the country and the dissemination of it within the nation. Further, it was claimed that the law places the blame for North Korean provocation on those who distribute leaflets, since North Korean provocations can cause serious harm to lives and health. They suggested other methods such as press conferences and meeting with North Korean defectors. They also questioned the feasibility of finding less restrictive alternatives to safeguard the lives and safety of border area residents.
Following the court’s order, the provisions regarding the prohibition and punishment for leaflet distribution in North Korea were immediately revoked. Some organizations held a separate conference to criticize the court’s ruling. They stated that leaflet distribution not only deteriorates inter-Korean relationships but also threatens residents of the border area.