Quietly undermining the dictator’s fortress: 375 balloons sent since early this year

In the heart of Seoul, several activist groups have been working tirelessly since the beginning of the year. These are groups supported by the Human Rights Foundation’s Flash Drives for Freedom, a program that aims to disseminate information from the outside world to North Koreans. One of these groups recently confirmed to NK Insider that they have launched 375 balloons into North Korea since early this year. Some images the group shared with us are displayed in the slide above.

These balloons are a beacon of hope for North Koreans living in the world’s most closed society, with the potential to spark meaningful change. They are packed with informational leaflets that defy the North Korean government’s propaganda, essential supplies such as medicine and food, and USB drives brimming with K-dramas, films, and Wikipedia materials.

A local group’s representative involved in the latest launch this month, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the work, shared some details: “This time, we sent 60 packages with about 600 content-loaded USB thumb drives. Each balloon carried ten to twelve drives. At present, 120 more balloons are poised for release at night in the coming days from undisclosed locations near the inter-Korean border, contingent on wind direction.”

In addition to thumb drives, the person noted that these balloons contained a mix of items such as candies, cookies, ramen, coffee, socks, jackets, and medicine, as well as leaflets with information closely guarded by the regime, such as the upbringing of North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong-un, and his family tree. NK Insider was able to confirm some of these items through the shared images.

This footage, shared recently by another local group, shows activists at night sending balloons, loaded with USBs and other items, to North Korea from an undisclosed location near the inter-Korean border

Kim and the elites in his inner circle in Pyongyang view the dissemination of external information to residents as an existential threat to their rule and legitimacy. To isolate its 25 million people from the world, the regime blocks them from leaving the country without authorization and bans their access to the internet. Domestic media is tightly controlled, and citizens are not allowed to make calls outside the country.

To address this issue, the HRF launched the Flash Drives for Freedom program in 2016. This multi-award-winning program accepts donations of new or unused flash drives from people around the world to support North Korean defector-led groups by providing them with flash drives. This initiative reduces the cost of equipment and enables these groups to use their limited resources on other priority areas of their work.

The program continues to make a significant impact by challenging the dictator’s narrative control with knowledge and open-source information, and it notably struck a nerve with the regime in Pyongyang back in 2018.

To date, Flash Drives for Freedom has sent over 135,000 USB drives and SD cards to North Koreans in partnership with activist groups, reaching over 1.35 million people based on estimates from our field partners. For further details, please visit the program’s official website.

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