Park Sang-hak: The man trying to liberate North Korea using balloons

He is dropping 100,000 copies of The Interview into the country

Lizzie Dearden@lizziedearden
Wednesday 31 December 2014 14:24
Park Sang-hak holding banknotes that he sent to North Korea by balloon in a protest against Kim Jong-il
Park Sang-hak holding banknotes that he sent to North Korea by balloon in a protest against Kim Jong-il

More than 100,000 copies of The Interview are to be dropped on North Korea using helium balloons in the latest stunt by a defector trying to bring down the dictatorship.

Park Sang-hak’s believes that destroying the personality cult around Kim Jong-un is the key to bringing down the secretive state's government.

North Korea has already vowed retaliation on the US for allowing the film, which depicts an assassination attempt against its leader, to be made.

The US blamed Pyongyang for a huge hack on filmmakers Sony Entertainment, which led to the leak of several embarrassing emails between executives.

Mr Park is stuffing bags strapped to helium balloons with 100,000 DVDs and USBs loaded with The Interview and sending them from South Korea into the North.

The operation will start next month in secret, with the pace picking up in March when he expects the wind direction to become more favourable.

Mr Park is working with the US-based non-profit Human Rights Foundation, which is financing the making of the DVDs and USB memory sticks of the film with Korean subtitles.

“North Korea's absolute leadership will be crumble if the idolisation of leader Kim breaks down,” he said, refusing to be disheartened by the rarity of computers and DVD players in North Korea

"We have to let the world know about the atrocities in North Korea and help our brothers and sisters there," he told the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Owning a computer requires permission from the government and costs as much as three months' salary for the average worker, according to South Korean analysts.

The move would further enrage North Korea, which opened fire at balloons in October, risking renewed conflict with South Korea as its troops returned fire when bullets whizzed over the border.

Park Sang-hak scatters anti-Pyongyang leaflets as police block a rally in October 2012

Those balloons were carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and in the past they have also taken noodle packs, $1 bills, South Korean soap operas and banned “Choco Pie” snacks to North Koreans.

Mr Park and a network of activists use cylindrical seven-metre tall balloons for the task, timing their departure with satellite weather data.

He is not the only defector to have had the same idea – Lee Min-bok claims to have launched 50 million leaflets a year via balloons for the past decade.

“My balloons are the way to achieve peace and unification and tell North Koreans the truth - not to hate the United States and South Korea,” he said.

North Koran defectors release balloons carrying leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, in Paju, near the border with North Korea

South Korea have refused the North’s commands to stop him, saying they have no legal grounds to do so, but have reportedly rented the house next door to monitor his activities.

Mr Park claims to have sent more than 10 million propaganda messages in balloons across the Demilitarised Zone into North Korea with his organisation, the Freedom Fighters of North Korea.

In September 2011, a would-be assassin reportedly attempted to stop his balloons by killing the defector, who claims to regularly receive death threats by email and phone.

Authorities in Seoul said they foiled an assassination attempt by a North Korean ex-commando known as Ahn, who came south armed with poison needles.

North Koran defectors prepare plastic bags containing leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

The North denied involvement in the plot but it has a long history of assassination attempts: Lee Han-yong, a nephew of Kim Jong-il's mistress, was murdered in South Korea soon after Hwang's 1997 defection, in what was apparently a revenge attack.

Mr Park, 46, is the son of a former North Korean spy who defected along with his family in 1999.

He has won awards for his balloon campaign and travels around the world speaking to delegates about human rights abuses in North Korea. In 2008 he met former US President George W Bush, who called him a “great freedom fighter”.

But not everyone supports him - some opponents and residents in South Korean border towns are urging the activists to stop risking a deterioration in relations.

North Korea has long demanded that South Korea stop the activists and threatened to shell launch sites, but Seoul refuses, citing freedom of speech.

Additional reporting by PA

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