HRF urged President Moon Jae-in in a public letter to uphold the country's democratic principles.

Apr 23, 2018

NEW YORK (April 23, 2018) — In a public letter addressed to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) denounced two incidents in which South Korean government agents prevented North Korean defectors Thae Yong-ho and Lee Min-bok from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association. Thae was forcibly prevented from giving an interview to South Korean cable TV network Channel A, and Lee was prevented, again with the use of the state police power, from launching balloons over the DMZ, a form of activism he has carried out since 2003. HRF urges the South Korean government to uphold the country’s democratic principles and refrain from curtailing fundamental rights.

“The South Korean government is behaving like a dictatorship, not like a free nation where citizens enjoy full fundamental rights. The fact is that both Thae Yong-ho and Lee Min-bok are now citizens of South Korea, and should have the right to freely express themselves, including to criticize North Korea’s murderous regime,” said HRF President Thor Halvorssen. “Instead of hindering it, Seoul should encourage the principled work of North Korean defectors who, at huge peril to their lives, were able to make it into the democratic part of the Korean Peninsula, and now, as free people, refuse to normalize and forget the horrendous predicament facing millions of their fellow Koreans.”

In the most recent incident, on April 13, 2018, National Intelligence Service (NIS) agents literally stood in front of the camera to prevent Channel A from filming a speech by Thae Yong-ho at a human rights conference. After blocking the filming of the speech, the NIS agents forcibly ushered Thae away from the reporters against his will, just as he began to answer an interview question. Conference organizers told Channel A that the Korean government had warned them to avoid “sensitive” topics, such as the upcoming inter-Korean summit.

In an earlier incident on April 10, 2018, a dozen policemen stopped North Korean defector and activist Lee Min-bok from launching balloons carrying educational leaflets into North Korea. Lee has been sending balloons across the DMZ border since 2003 without South Korean government interference.

HRF sent the letter to President Moon Jae-in on April 23, 2018. The letter is the latest development in HRF’s efforts to support North Korean defector-run activism around the world. HRF launched the Flash Drives for Freedom campaign in 2016 to support South Korean partners that smuggle information into North Korea.

Read the full letter here.

Read the letter in Korean here.

Read more about HRF’s Disrupt North Korea program here.

Watch Thae Yong-ho’s video message to the 2017 Oslo Freedom Forum here.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

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Urge the South Korean government to uphold democratic principles and refrain from violating the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.


Office of President Moon Jae-in

Address: 1 Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea

Phone: +82 2-730-5800

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea

Address: 60, Sajik-ro 8-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea (110-787)

Phone: +82-2-2100-2114

Fax: +82-2-2100-7999

Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations