The Constitutional Court of South Korea on Tuesday struck down a provision of the Law on the Development of Inter-Korean Relations which prohibits the distribution of leaflets in North Korea and imposes penalties on violators, known as the North Korea Leaflet Ban Act.This decision comes after two years since South Korean organizations started advocating for the rights of North Koreans and defectors submitted a constitutional petition in December 2020, asserting that said law infringes upon fundamental rights, such as the freedom of expression. The North Korea Leaflet Ban Act, enacted in December 2020, prohibited any actions causing harm or serious danger to the lives or bodies of people through leaflets or other dispersal toward the North and imposed penalties of up to three years of imprisonment or fines of up to 30 million won on violators, as well as those attempting to do so.According to a press release issued today by the court, the seven judges who concluded that the North Korea Leaflet Ban Act is unconstitutional determined that this law unjustifiably restricts freedom of speech because it broadly targets the content of the restricted expressions and even employs the force of state punishment, which should be the last resort. They pointed out that the content of the restricted expression is broad because they have the potential to provoke North Korea, considering the strict control over external information flow and its dissemination within the country. Furthermore, it was argued that since any harm or serious danger to the lives and health of people is caused by provocations from North Korea, the law shifts the responsibility for North Korean provocations onto those who distribute leaflets.Two dissenting judges claimed the law only limits how opinions are expressed, not their content. They suggested alternative methods like press conferences and meetings with North Korean defectors. They also questioned the feasibility of finding less restrictive alternatives to safeguard the lives and safety of border area residents.Following the court’s order, the provisions regarding the prohibition and punishment for leaflet distribution in North Korea were immediately revoked. Some organizations held a separate press conference at the same venue and criticized the court’s decision, stating that the distribution of leaflets not only leads to a deterioration of inter-Korean relations but also threatens the safety of residents in the border area.

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