Campaigner urges South Koreans to donate USB memory sticks
By Jung Min-ho
Tiny flash drives or memory storage cards could become powerful weapons to use against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his military regime.
The idea behind the Flash Drives for Freedom campaign, led by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) and Forum 280, is to smuggle flash drives into the isolated state in order to provide North Koreans with flash drives holding South Korean soap operas or Hollywood movies.
"Outside information and knowledge will transform North Korea," Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer for HRF, told The Korea Times.
"According to the Seoul-based North Korea Strategy Center, only about 30 percent of North Koreans know that they are brainwashed and that the outside world is much more prosperous.
"Through campaigns like this, we hope to get that number closer to 50 percent or even 75 percent, and at that point, the evil Kim dictatorship will not be able to survive."
The way to participate in the campaign is simple: just ship any USB sticks to the campaign office in Palo Alto, California. (More information is available on www.flashdrivesforfreedom.org)
According to the organizers, campaigners will then find ways to smuggle the sticks into the repressive state.
Few citizens have access to computers and the Internet. However, portable video players known as Notels are becoming increasingly common, Gladstein noted.
"South Korean soap operas, Hollywood movies, video footage of South Korea, interviews with defectors, music videos and even the Korean language Wikipedia can all be useful content," he said. "Through education we can help North Koreans liberate their country."
According to HRF, about 200 flash drives and $10,000 have so far been donated.
Some South Koreans have participated in the campaign, but this is far fewer than expected, Gladstein said.
"There are some South Koreans that support the North Korean civil society groups, like the North Korea Strategy Center, but not many," he said. "The lack of interest inside South Korea with regard to helping the human rights situation in North Korea is a problem."
Gladstein said that he believed most South Koreans remained unenthusiastic about the campaign largely for two reasons ― a lack of awareness and concerns about possible legal trouble.
So campaigners are trying to push the South Korean government to pass the North Korean Human Rights Act, which has been pending at the National Assembly for more than a decade.
"This will unlock a lot of new funding, support, and awareness for the defector organizations," Gladstein said. "And it will make the average South Korean more comfortable supporting these groups, once the government gives a signal that this is a legitimate and worthwhile endeavor."
In the wake of North Korea's recent nuclear test and rocket launch, U.S. President Barack Obama signed legislation last week to impose tighter sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear weapons program, according to the White House.
Part of the sanctions is to authorize $10 million annually over five years to expand North Korean citizens' access to the media and to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees.