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South Korea 26 August 2003

Police prevent release of balloons carrying radios to North Korea

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) called on South Korea today to explain why riot police prevented human rights activists releasing balloons that were to drop radio sets over North Korea.

"The government’s job is of course to maintain law and order on its territory but how does sending tiny radio sets to North Koreans threaten South Korea’s security?" the press freedom organisation asked in a letter to government administration and home affairs minister Kim Doo-kwan. Reporters Without Borders morally and materially supports the project and hopes the authorities will eventually allow it to go ahead.

(JPEG) Police prevented a score of activists releasing about 200 balloons carrying more than 600 radio sets on 22 August at Chulwon, near the North Korean border. A German doctor, Norbert Vollertsen, was roughed up by the police and hospitalised with a foot injury and bruises. He was trying to fill the balloons with helium despite the police ban.

The project was launched by Korean-born American pastor Douglas Shin and Dr Vollertsen, who was deported from North Korea in 2001 for criticising the human rights situation there, and aimed to give hundreds of people in the north a chance to pick up Korean-language broadcasts by foreign stations, including Radio Free Asia, on the solar-powered sets. All radio and TV sets in North Korea are made so they can only receive the state-controlled media.

The scheme’s organisers said the South Korean foreign ministry had been told about the launch and had not formally objected. However, no official request for permission to stage it had been made. The law allows demonstrations to be banned if the organisers have already been involved in a violent demonstration or if the site of the protest is considered unsuitable.

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