How do you get human rights messages to ordinary North Koreans when TV, radio, the internet and press are state-controlled? By using helium balloons to drop DVDs, transistors and leaflets over the border.
That’s the strategy used by Park Sang Hak and the Fighters for a Free North Korea, who, on June 29, tried to launch 5,000 balloons across the border between North and South Korea. The South Korean government stopped them, but two days later Park – a defector from the North – completed the launch from a secret location. To entice North Koreans to track the balloons they carry one or two US dollars – equivalent to several weeks’ wages as well as some sweets.
More than 52 million leaflets have made it into North Korea so far, earning Park the Human Rights Foundation’s 2013 Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. “With totalitarian governments, if it’s music or TV, ballet or baseball, it’s propaganda,” foundation president Thor Halvorssen explains. North Korea considers Park “enemy zero” for his low-tech file-sharing – he says it sent an assassin to try and kill him in 2011. “He’s fearless,” Halvorssen says.