This interview has received some editing for brevity. However, it has largely been preserved in its original format for clarity. To learn more about the ongoing balloon launch investigations, read our previous article here.
Mission Network News (MNN): Before we get any further, can you give us an update on the balloon launches and where you guys are at with officials and your ministry right now?
Eric Foley of Voice of the Martyrs Korea: With our ministry, we remain fully operational and committed to our full slate of work in partnership with underground Christians, including our underground North Korean brothers and sisters in the balloon launching work that we do. We don’t comment on specific launches, but any time the weather is good, that’s always our cue to know that we need to keep the promise we made to underground North Korean Christians 18 years ago to bring Bibles into North Korea by balloon.
As regards officials, the investigations continue, of which we’re party to two. One regards our NGO status, and that came about because one of the governors – the governor of the largest province – indicated that balloon launchers as a group (and there are four balloon launchers; we’re the only ones that launch Bibles and then the other three groups launch political information primarily) were launching anti-North Korean material and were responsible for what he called “Unforgiveable crimes that needed to be investigated.” He said we’re probably guilty of fraud, misallocation of donations, and endangering the public welfare. This is what then spawned the initial investigation of four balloon launch organizations.
For us, balloon launching is only about 10% of what we do, but we’re one of the four groups that launch in South Korea, and so we were one of those groups that came under that investigation. That investigation, as we understand it, is ongoing, although we’ve met with Seoul city officials, the Cultural Policy Division which holds our NGO status. We supplied all of the information to them that they asked for, and they indicated that what we were doing matched our statement of purpose and that they saw no financial malfeasance from the information that we had supplied. But it’s the nature of these kinds of investigations that they’re always ongoing. They never seem to reach any kind of conclusion where you’re exonerated. But as far as we understand, we supplied everything that’s necessary and there’s no imminent action.
The other investigation is related to me personally and to criminal charges related to balloon launching, and that also is ongoing. And sometimes we read about developments in that front in the same way that you would: through the media. And then others happen through being called in for investigation, and that’s what’s ongoing. So, on the one hand, it’s been a rapid process. On the other hand, of course, these things take time. Our part of the process, as it always has been, is to fully comply with everything that we’re asked to supply. We always invite those opportunities to be transparent in what we do, and as we’ve said in regard to the criminal investigation of a balloon launching, we fully submit to the authorities all of our work, and if it’s determined that our ministry is a crime, I will faithfully and willingly submit to whatever punishment is determined.
MNN: Clarify for me, because this has been a point of confusion, is this a religious crackdown or is this a political crackdown?
Foley: I think it would best be described as an investigation into North Korea-related NGOs. In South Korea, there are many different kinds of NGOs working with North Korean people. And so that would be the best way to describe this investigation. It began as an investigation of the four organizations that launched balloons, three of which do political launches and the fourth – us – launches only Bibles. Then, it expanded to 25 other NGOs that do North Korea-related work, but their work is not balloon work. Altogether, 89 North Korea-related NGOs have been notified of pending inspection. That’s the term that’s being used for these other NGOs is inspection. As they say, it relates to issues about balloon work and “other matters.” That’s how they described it.
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SOURCE: Mission Network News, Alex Anhalt