A South Korean activist said Wednesday he had launched thousands of copies of the controversial Hollywood film "The Interview" into North Korea by balloon, ignoring dire threats of reprisals from Pyongyang.
North Korea has labeled the Seth Rogen comedy about a fictional CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un a "wanton act of terror." The movie was released in December even after a cyberattack in November hit Sony Pictures Entertainment, the studio behind the film. The FBI blamed the cyberattack on North Korea, which has denied the accusation.
North Korean defector-turned-activist Lee Min-Bok said he had carried out four cross-border balloon launches since January — the latest one on Saturday. On each occasion, he tied bundles carrying copies of "The Interview" and anti-Pyongyang leaflets to helium balloons and then released them from the back of a truck.
"I launched thousands of copies and about a million leaflets on Saturday, near the western part of the border," Lee told Agence France-Presse.
Lee told CNN that while he finds “The Interview” movie “vulgar,” he said the reason he decided to send thousands of copies of it across the border is because “the regime hates this film because it shows Kim Jong Un as a man, not a God.”
All the launches were carried out at night with little or no advance publicity, given the sensitivity on both sides. South Korean activists have dropped everything from Bibles to U.S. dollar bills to radios via the balloon launches.
The goal of the launches is to let “North Korean people know about Kim Jong-Un’s brutality…and deliver a message to North Koreans that now is the time for them to rise up and finish the dictatorship,” Park Sang-Hak, the leader of one defector group, Fighters for a Free North Korea, said in January.
North Korea has long condemned the cross-border launches and demanded that the South Korean authorities step in to prevent them.
Last October North Korea border guards attempted to shoot down some balloons, triggering a brief exchange of heavy machine gun fire between the two sides. No one was reported hurt in the exchange across the demilitarized zone dividing the Korean Peninsula, one of the world’s tensest military flashpoints.
Pyongyang issued some particularly stern warnings against any effort to include copies of "The Interview" in the balloon bundles, saying that any challenge to its "just physical countermeasures" will trigger "merciless retaliatory strikes."
While appealing to activists to avoid provoking the North, Seoul insists that the activists’ airborne gesture of protest is protected as a form of freedom of expression.
Police have intervened to prevent some launches, but only when there is a prospect of North Korean retaliation that might endanger residents living near the balloon launch site. Lee's launches were done at night in remote locations, and though they were monitored by local police, no move was made to stop him.
"The police would have no right to stop me from doing this," Lee said. "I am always being tailed by police," he added.
A CNN camera crew that followed Lee on Saturday filmed him attaching the bundles to the balloons in the middle of the night before releasing them into the darkness.
The balloons are wholly at the mercy of the prevailing winds, and it is impossible to determine how many will actually land in North Korea.
Seoul's Unification Ministry, which said it had only become aware of Lee's latest launches in the past couple of days, declined to comment on his efforts to transport copies of the movie.
"Our stance is that we continue to acknowledge the freedom of individuals to publicize their opinions," a ministry spokesman said.
Last month, South Korea’s Unification Ministry vowed that it would take steps to prevent similar launches in an effort to protect local residents from possible retaliation by North Korea.
Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse