SEOUL, Aug. 1 (Yonhap) -- The international nongovernmental organization, Human Rights Watch, has called on South Korea to stop "regulatory intimidation" against some activist groups focusing on North Korean human rights, calling it a "political crackdown."
Last month, Seoul's unification ministry sought to check if the groups were operating in line with their declared business purposes -- a move critics argue was aimed at clamping down on those sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the North despite its calls against such activity.
"The South Korean government should halt this targeted campaign of regulatory intimidation against civil society groups," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying in a press release Friday.
"The recent controversy regarding cross-border leaflets should not override the need to support and protect a diverse civil society that presses North Korea to respect human rights," he added.
Robertson also said the regulatory inspection against certain groups damages South Korea's record of respect for civil and political rights.
The Seoul government has tried to restrict activist groups from floating the propaganda leaflets into the North, as Pyongyang threatened to take retaliatory steps if it did not stop such activity.
The leafleting issue has triggered an intense debate between those favoring freedom of expression and those arguing that the sending of the leaflets would needlessly aggravate tensions and endanger the safety of residents in border regions.