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PAJU, SOUTH KOREA — South Korean police officers are clashing with human rights activists who are trying to send a slimmed down version of the movie The Interview into North Korea by way of air balloons.
Police have followed and detained a man known as “enemy zero,” a North Korean defector and the top individual wanted by the North Korean government, in an effort to prevent him from airlifting thousands of copies of a shortened version of the Sony movie that centers on the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Park Sang-hak, who defected in 1998 and is known to be a top target on North Korea’s “hit list,” and who survived an assassination attempt a few years ago, made it roughly a dozen miles from the border before three dozen South Korean police surrounded his trucks stuffed with 2,000 DVD and USB copies of the movie, plus 300,000 leaflets, American music and other media meant for delivery to North Korea via hydrogen balloons.
Shouts of protest by the activists, led by Thor Halvorssen, head of The Human Rights Foundation, were met with profound resistance from the South Korean police who claimed the activists present a danger and threatened to arrest agitators.
The activists, miles from their destination at a rest stop to which authorities prevented them from proceeding further, attempted nevertheless to launch their 10 balloons. But authorities who were detaining them prevented them from even retrieving their cargo from their trucks.
In an act of defiance, the activists a poster of Kim Jong Un on the ground, stood on his face and made impassioned speeches in favor of free speech, denouncing the repressive North Korean government.
They stood with a large sign reading, in part, “let’s bring down the hereditary dictatorship.”
The move is the latest salvo in a global controversy involving The Interview, the comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. Sony was hit by a devastating hack in November that was attributed by the Obama administration to the North Korean government.
Hundreds of thousands of embarrassing emails and personal documents were released. Sony pulled the movie from theaters when several large chains refused to show it, and then made the movie available to independent theaters and via digital distributors. Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal ultimately stepped down from her position in the wake of the scandal.
The hack has helped spark a strong free speech movement from some activists in South Korea and elsewhere. A plan to airlift copies of The Interview via balloon into North Korea has been part of that movement.
At the makeshift rally, Halvorssen spoke of his peaceful delegation that included representatives of six countries. He accused the police guards — the men hired by the South Korean government to protect defectors whose lives have been threatened — of ratting out Thursday’s balloon operation to cops and media before it could take place. “How different are they from the North Korean government?” he asked.
Halvorssen told The Hollywood Reporter, “The sun rises tomorrow. And we have a plan.”
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