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North Korea’s Kim Il Sung Has a Memoir. South Koreans Aren’t Allowed to Buy It.


SEOUL—Bookstores have halted sales of a memoir by North Korea’s founding father, and local police are investigating its distribution in South Korea, in the latest of a series of free-speech controversies relating to the Kim regime.

On April 1, a small South Korean publisher made available all eight volumes of

Kim Il Sung’s

“With the Century,” which was first released in North Korea in 1992 and has been available in several other countries.

South Korea, with few exceptions, deems material like Kim Il Sung’s memoir illegal, under a national security law that restricts the distribution of Pyongyang’s propaganda in the country. The recent publication was the first instance in which Kim Il Sung’s work became available to ordinary citizens in South Korea.

In 2016, a college professor was sentenced to a suspended prison term for asking students to write essays about Kim Il Sung’s memoir after he gave excerpts to them. In 2011, the supreme court explicitly said the autobiography was illegal under South Korean law. In 1994, the chief executive of a book publisher was arrested for attempting to print “With the Century,” which details Kim Il Sung’s early years.

The latest company to release the Kim memoirs is Minjok Sarang Bang, which roughly translates as “Love for the People Publishing House” in English. Police are looking into how and why the publisher decided to publish the texts, according to South Korea’s semiofficial Yonhap News Agency. Multiple calls to the police went unanswered, and the publisher couldn’t be reached for comment.

On Monday, a North Korean propaganda outlet blasted South Korea over the censorship. “The moves to stop the publication are dirty,” according to Uriminzokkiri, a Pyongyang state-run website that releases propaganda targeting South Koreans.

The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been criticized by international human-rights groups, opposition lawmakers and North Korean defectors as giving priority to diplomacy with the North over free speech.

South Korea created a law last year that bans groups from sending leaflets critical of the

Kim Jong Un

regime over the border into North Korea, unless the Seoul government gives permission. Legislators crafting the bill argued the leaflets could provoke Pyongyang into attacking its southern neighbor.

Violators can be sent to prison for up to three years or face a fine of up to 30 million South Korean won, equivalent to about $27,000.

The legislation took effect in March. It followed North Korean state-media protests, including criticism last June from

Kim Yo Jong,

the leader’s sister, who said South Korea should block the leaflets.

But the leaflet-sending didn’t stop. Last week, Seoul-based activists disobeyed the new rule, launching into the North some 500,000 antiregime leaflets that contained pamphlets condemning Kim Jong Un. The activists expressed objection to the new South Korean law, saying it undermined freedom of expression and North Koreans’ right to access outside information.

On Sunday, Ms. Kim called the action an intolerable provocation and those who sent the leaflets “human waste.”

South Korean media began reporting on the availability of Kim Il Sung’s memoir last month. In response to that coverage, the main conservative opposition party expressed support for lifting domestic restrictions against publishing North Korean propaganda materials, including the autobiography of Kim Il Sung. South Korean conservatives have usually advocated a tougher stance toward North Korea.

The South Korean public is mature enough to distinguish fact from fiction, an opposition party spokesman said. “The autobiography is a work of fiction, nothing more or nothing less,” he said. “Let’s leave it to the people to decide what it is.”

A far cry from hawkish newscasts and displays of the regime’s weapons arsenal, North Korea’s vloggers showcase a softer side of life in Pyongyang. Here’s how the country is revamping its propaganda machine to target new audiences who speak English, French and Chinese. Photo composite: Sharon Shi (Video from 8/31/20)

Write to Andrew Jeong at [email protected]

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