“These balloons are an information lifeline to ordinary North Koreans, who have no means to learn about the world beyond the lies of their government,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “The international community often focuses on how little we know about life inside North Korea—but the real story is that North Koreans know little to nothing about the world we live in. Most are unaware that there is an alternative to repressive tyranny. We are helping to change that.”
Today’s launch, which sent 20 large weather balloons carrying more than 500,000 democracy leaflets, is part of HRF’s program aimed at disrupting the North Korean government’s grip on its population’s knowledge base. Along with the leaflets, the balloons also carry DVDs with South Korea soap operas to show life outside the regime, transistor radios to listen to foreign broadcasts, and USBs loaded with a complete Korean version of Wikipedia.
HRF first attempted a launch in June 2013 that prompted the North Korean government to issue two warnings threatening retaliation if HRF’s program proceeded. Fearing a conflict, the South Korean government sent 300 police officers to stop the launch minutes before the balloons were to be released. The launch was a collaboration with Fighters for a Free North Korea, led by defector Park Sang Hak, who was awarded the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the 2013 Oslo Freedom Forum.
With this successful launch, HRF also hopes to counter the current narrative of the dictatorship in the international media by focusing on efforts to assist ordinary people inside the country. NBA star Dennis Rodman was criticized for refusing to assist imprisoned American Kenneth Bae during his recent trip to Pyongyang, yet little attention is paid to the North Koreans suffering under the dictatorship every day.
“The Kim Jong Un regime is portrayed as a circus, with Dennis Rodman as this month’s court jester, but this satirization and sensationalism distracts from the fact that twenty-four million people are living under one of the most cruel and brutal dictatorships in human history,” said Halvorssen.
In 2014 HRF will expand its support for technologies and initiatives aimed at disrupting the North Korean regime. HRF has previously sponsored exposure of the North Korean regime through its Oslo Freedom Forum program with talks by Kang Chol Hwan, Hannah Song, Barbara Demick, and Park Sang Hak.
HRF is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that protects and promotes human rights globally, with an expertise in the Americas. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.
Contact: Jamie Hancock - Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486, firstname.lastname@example.org