An American pastor who sends scripture-filled helium balloons across the border into North Korea is now facing criminal prosecution. South Korean police have recommended that Pastor Eric Foley and his mission group Voice of the Martyrs Korea (VOMK) faces three separate charges, two of which are related to national security and border violation.
Foley, who works in South Korea, confirmed on Twitter that his case had been "referred to the Seoul prosecutor's office".
Speaking to Mission News Network of the charges, he explained that "one of them is related to the violation of an inter-Korean exchange law," which is "a law that regulates commerce between North and South Korea".
The pastor insisted that the laws used to prosecute him are "designed for natural disaster management" but, in his case, are "being related to balloon launching with a charge that our activity created a national threat to Korea".
He added that the third charge is "related to the use of high-pressure gas".
The South Korean authorities have been cracking down on the balloon launches following increased pressure from the North Korean government. Foley, who has been engaged in the unique missionary activity for the past 15 years, says he came up with the idea after meeting with underground North Korean church members in the early 2000s and hearing that they needed more Bibles in the country. He uses computer modelling software to ensure the weather conditions are favourable for the balloons to reach North Korea.
Foley said his legal case brings up the issue of whether balloon launches should be prohibited under the law. He said that at the present time, the activity is not explicitly illegal.
“Our case asks, ‘[Should] launching Bible balloons, which has been legal up until this point in time, be considered illegal not just going forward, but related to past launches?” he told MNN.
“For 15 years, we’ve had a good relationship with the authorities. We’ve had police, military, even the intelligence services present at all of our launches. This year in a couple of launches, I asked the police, ‘is this illegal?’ And the police responded, ‘well, no, you just can’t do it here in this location.'"
VOMK has sent approximately 600,000 Bibles into North Korea by balloon and various other methods.