Authorities in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea (the area where most balloon launches happen) announced new restrictions on balloon launching today, effectively criminalizing and heavily fining not only launching but even the transport of materials for launch.
Here are a few notes from Gyeonggi Province Deputy Governor Lee’s announcement today:
Gyeonggi province Deputy Governor Lee has issued an entry ban on those who plan to fly leaflets over the border. He says launchers will be arrested if spotted.
The Deputy governor briefing made 3 points:
1. Designating certain areas of the province as “danger zones” and prohibiting entry of launchers into those areas.
2. Preemptively stopping the movements of vehicles and other balloon launch preparation actions.
3. Using Gyeonggi province’s special judicial police force to investigate, control, report these activities.
The argument given in the briefing was that NK has warned of balloon launches from the border area as a provocation. The Deputy Governor says “leafleting threatens the safety of residents so we ban the entry of leafletters entering the region. They will be arrested on site if spotted by the local government special police force.”
“The current 「Basic Act on Disaster and Safety Management」 Article 41 (Establishment of Hazardous Areas), Article 43 (Traffic Restriction, etc.) and Article 46 (Emergency Measures by the Metropolitan City/Do Governor) refer to the city’s provincial governor’s life and safety responsibilities. If necessary, it is possible to instruct emergency measures such as setting up hazardous areas and restricting traffic.”
Transport of gas for launching will also result in a fine or arrest.
The city plans to block the entrance to the “danger zones” with the cooperation of the police, etc., and if launchers attempt to enter the area, it will “take measures through the Special Judicial Police Corps in Gyeonggi-do, etc.,”
Materials sent to North Korea without prior notice to the authorities are regarded as illegal advertisements, and fines will be imposed according to the outdoor advertisement law.
Our VOMK response to the announcement follows.
Over the past 15 years, the respectful cooperation between Voice of the Martyrs Korea and Korean police, military, and intelligence services has served as an admirable international model for how the freedoms of speech and religion, the protection of property and public safety, and the advancement of political and economic peace and prosperity can all be safeguarded and jointly fostered, even during the most dangerous moments of inter-Korean tension and conflict.
We are disappointed that authorities have chosen to suddenly and unilaterally disregard this proven model of effective cooperation. We are grieved that they have criminalized even the most responsible and cooperative exercise of long-cherished rights as an inherent, imminent threat to peace and prosperity.
We call on all Korean authorities to return to their long-demonstrated commitment to cooperative, responsible, respectful dialogue among all stakeholders—listening not only to state actors but also NGOs and citizens who have acted responsibly for many years. We believe this remains the only truly safe path forward. Cooperative, respectful preservation of the full range of rights has served us all well over the past 15 years, even during the times of greatest national danger. It has ensured that we can all make progress in all of the areas of importance to all of us, even in the midst of the most threatening rhetoric and actions.
Our commitment at Voice of the Martyrs Korea remains unchanged: We will continue to support all Korean Christians, both North and South, as they follow Christ. This is what our suffering Christian brothers and sisters in North Korea request, and it is what Christ commands.
There are times when governments criminalize the actions we as Christians are called to undertake. In such times, we remain subject to the governing authorities. This means that we will continue to do what God calls us to do, and we will willingly and joyfully suffer whatever penalty the authorities lay upon us as the price for that faithfulness.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea has continuously pioneered numerous innovations to make balloon launches safe for all Koreans North and South, including:
–the use exclusively of non-flammable helium gas;
–predictive computer modeling and GPS tracking, to ensure that balloons are only launched when it is certain they will reach their intended destinations in North Korea;
–high-altitude balloons, which cross into North Korea well above the range of ground artillery;
–environmentally-friendly materials and clean-up practices; and, most of all,
–a cooperative arrangement with all enforcement authorities to ensure that the goals of all stakeholders may be achieved as far as possible.
We have launched without negative impact to life or property during far more contentious periods in North/South relations. Positively, in the past 15 years, the percentage of North Korean citizens who have seen a Bible with their own eyes has increased from essentially 0% to nearly 8%, according to the North Korean Human Rights Database.
We have never at any time sent any form of political message or propaganda but only the Chosun Bibles published by the North Korean government and protected under the North Korean constitution’s freedom of religion for all North Korean citizens.
All of our North Korean ministry projects are undertaken at the request and advice of underground North Korean Christians.