EOUL — The human rights group Amnesty International says a South Korean law that is meant to stop the spread of pro North Korean propaganda, limits freedom of speech. Thursday, the rights group released a report condemning the long-standing National Security Law and urging Korean politicians to abolish it. But, South Korea’s next president will be unlikely to do so.
Park Jung-geun says he is no fan of the North Korean government. But the 24-year-old South Korean was recently found guilty of supporting the Pyongyang government. He says he was only trying to make a joke on the social networking service Twitter.
Park (@seouldecadence on Twitter) explains all he did was re-tweet a message that originally came from a pro-North Korean website. He thought the message was funny.
Last year, Park was arrested for sending that message on the social networking site. He spent 40 days in detention and his computer was seized by the South Korean authorities. A judge in Suwon ruled last week that Park had violated the National Security Law and handed down a suspended 10-month prison sentence. Park is free now, but faces jail time if he violates the law again.
Park says the National Security Law violates his and many others’ freedom of speech.
He says people should be allowed to express themselves. And, he says that in particular, provisions of the law that outlaw praising North Korea are being abused by the government.
The human rights group, Amnesty International, agrees. On Thursday, the group used a news conference to release a report that condemns South Korea’s National Security Law.
Amnesty’s South Korea director, Kal Sangdon, says under President Lee Myung-bak’s administration investigations into alleged pro-North Korea activity have been on the rise.
Kal says the National Security Law is being used to limit freedom of expression, especially online. He says that in 2011, 67,300 posts on message boards were deleted because they were deemed to praise North Korea, or were critical of the United States and/or South Korean governments. That is almost a five-fold increase from just two years earlier.
Despite the increase in the number of investigations, the number of actual convictions remains relatively low. According to government statistics, there were 90 police investigations in 2011, but only 19 South Koreans were imprisoned for violating the National Security Law.
Kal says for these reasons, Amnesty believes the law is being used to intimidate individuals and institutions that are critical of Lee Myung-bak’s North Korea policy.
Rajiv Narayan, Amnesty International’s East Asia director, says to prevent further abuses, it is time for the South Korean government to reform the law.
“We are launching this document at a time when a new president will be elected on the 19th of December," Narayan explained. "We are calling on candidates to take a historic decision to support abolition of the National Security Law or fundamentally reform it in line with South Korea’s international obligations and commitments.”
But revoking or limiting the National Security Law is not an issue that concerns most voters. That is according to Kim Chang-nam, who lectures in the communications department at Seoul’s Sungkonghoe University.
Kim says South Korean people have received anti-Communist education for so long that the National Security Law seems normal. A politician would not be able to gain more votes by challenging the law during the campaign.
Kim says if conservative candidate Park Geun-hye wins the election, he expects enforcement of the National Security Law to remain the same as under her predecessor. But, he says if the progressive candidate Moon Jae-in wins, there could be some changes.
He says, at best, there is the possibility the law could be modified. But he does not see it being abandoned
Park Jung-geun, the young man who was found guilty of violating the National Security Law, says from now on he will refrain from saying anything about North Korea on social media.
He says many South Koreans are scared to use Twitter. And, he says, he has lost interest in it