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South Korea charging defectors over leaflets dropped in North

South Korea announced Wednesday it will press charges against groups of North Korean defectors for floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

The move, announced by Seoul’s Unification Ministry, will likely spark debate over whether the South Korean government is infringing on two groups’ democratic rights in an effort to maintain ties with the North. The decision comes a day after Pyongyang threatened to cut off communication with South Korea over the leaflets, which Pyongyang has long slammed as a propaganda tactic. 

Yoh Sang-key, the ministry’s spokesman, told reporters the two groups being charged had “created tensions between the South and North and brought danger to the lives and safety of (South Korean) residents in border areas,” according to The Associated Press

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South Korea announced last week that it would explore new laws to prevent defectors and activists from sending the leaflets into North Korea following threats from Pyongyang to scrap a 2018 deal to reduce tensions. 

“The [Republic of Korea Government] carried out measures to suspend the act of flying leaflets to the North on numerous occasions, taking note that such action can raise tensions in the border area,” the government said in a press release last week. “Such action of distributing leaflets should be ceased as it not only poses a risk to the lives and property of our nationals living in the border area, but also hinders inter-Korean quarantine cooperation.”

The activist groups railed against Seoul’s decision, with one defector condemning it as “treacherous” and vowing to send more leaflets via drone.

“Since when has the Ministry of Unification become the ministry of treason?” Park Sang-hak asked in an interview with the AP. “We will respond not with words but with action, by flying even more leaflets to North Korean people.”

Activists have been sending the leaflets into North Korea for years to slam strongman Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnOvernight Defense: Biden nets military family endorsements | Final debate features North Korea exchange | Judge refuses to dismiss sexual assault case against top general Biden: Obama wouldn't 'legitimize' North Korea with meeting How Trump and Biden contrast on foreign policy MORE’s nuclear program and human rights record. Pyongyang has bristled at the activists’ efforts and has long called on Seoul to curtail the groups’ activities, but South Korea has until now declined to codify a ban on the leaflets.