South Korea’s Limited Freedom of Speech and Five Laws

10 years ago, I wrote about the internet censorship in South Korea and self-censorship of the media.

I think this should be stopped right now. You know why? Because if you keep people in a clean room for a long time, they loose immunity. And when they are exposed by the propaganda, they tend to be tricked so easily. I think it is about time for South Koreans to actually see by themselves how absurd and abnormal North Korea really is, aside from pictures of the happy North Korean faces of kids that the unification minister always waving around.

But, it’s not the only kind of websites that tend to be blocked….

And, still, nothing has changed. I see signs of deterioration. I see more use of criminal defamation lawsuits and self-censorship and almost violent nationalist mob attacks to silence “traitors”.

National Security Act

The “anti-government organizations” the law aims to suppress have the character of “a domestic or foreign organization or group which uses fraudulently the title of the government or aims at a rebellion against the State, and which is provided with a command and leadership system.”[1]
In other words, the law made communism illegal and left capitalism untouched. To that end, all of the following were made illegal: recognition of North Korea as a political entity; organizations advocating the overthrow of the government; the printing, distributing, and ownership of “anti-government” material; and any failure to report such violations by others. It has been reformed and strengthened over the past few decades, with the Anti-communism Law being merged with it during the 1980s.

Any person who praises, incites or propagates the activities of an antigovernment organization, a member thereof or of the person who has received an order from it, or who acts in concert with it, or propagates or instigates a rebellion against the State, with the knowledge of the fact that it may endanger the existence and security of the State or democratic fundamental order, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than seven years.


In 2013, the National Intelligence Service, a powerful spy agency that her father used to torture and silence dissidents, moved to disband an outspoken progressive party. The agency arrested the party’s leaders on charges of violating the Cold War-era National Security Law, which bans activities deemed pro-North Korean. (*)

(North Korean spy is real though)


청소년보호법 or Juvenile Protection Act.

The Republic of Korea restricts youth access to the information and materials of harmful media such as adult, violent, and drugs based on the Juvenile Protection Act . [1] Based on this information, materials and information ( pornography ) , It is stipulated that mandatory labeling and packaging of hazardous media for juveniles should be mandatory if the notification becomes effective after the juvenile has been judged as a harmful medium under the current law.

This Korean Juvenile Protection Act is not just limited to porn. I remember 김완섭 Kim Wan-seop‘s case well.

Kim is identified in the media as pro-Japanese due to his political positions and alleged glamorization of Japanese colonial rule in Korea, and has been accused of character defamation against various historical Korean nationalists. In 2004, a Seoul prosecutor indicted him for comments he made about Kim Gu.

His book was designated as harmful for the youth and practically banned in South Korea. And he was sued and physically attacked by Korean nationalist. Pretty crazy.

I read his work 친일파를 위한 변명 in Japan and the content is just fine.


The real name policy and Internet censorship

Search engines are required to verify age for some keywords deemed inappropriate for minors. For such keywords, age verification using national identity number is required. For foreigners, a copy of passport must be faxed to verify the age. As of 2008, practically all large search engine companies in South Korea, including foreign-owned companies (e.g. Yahoo! Korea), have complied with this legislation.

South Koreans need to register their real names when they use the internet. This real name policy combining with other laws such as the National Security Act, South Koreans are very intimidated to express their own opinions on the internet.


Cyber defamation law

The cyber defamation law that the Korean government pursues allows police to crack down on hateful comments without any reports from victims. The only country where such cyber defamation law is being implemented is China. South Korea is the first democratic country in the process of introducing the law.[2]

This law does not prevent Koreans from defaming Japanese. Hate speech against Japanese are not hate speech in Korean society… Not kidding. It’s more like “pro-Japan comments are considered hateful to Korean race”. SERIOUSLY.


Criminal defamation laws

Korea’s Cyber Defamation Law: Basics of Libel and Slander in Korea – The Korean Law Blog

The crime of defamation, in South Korea, is vastly different from defamation laws in many Western countries (and Japan). Most Western countries(and Japan) have, only, civil liability for defamation and much stricter requirements even for civil liability.

In the United States, the alleged defamation (civil) against a person must be a false statement. The truth is a complete defense.

Owing to the First Amendment’s protection on free speech (New York Times vs. Sullivan), additional requirements may also apply, such as requiring the statement to have been made maliciously (knowledge that the statement was false or reckless disregard for the truth), while the truth is an absolute defense.

However, in South Korea, people may be held civilly liable and may be criminally punished even for a true statement.


South Korea: Stop Using Criminal Defamation Laws – Human Rights Watch

Legal Reforms Needed to End Suppression of Media Freedoms

(Seoul) – The South Korean Government should immediately stop using criminal defamation laws to silence the media, Human Rights Watch said today. All laws criminalizing peaceful expression should be repealed.


Is South Korea’s Criminal Defamation Law Hurting Democracy? – WSJ


South Korea Government Accused of Using Defamation Laws to Silence Critics – New York Times

the United Nations Human Rights Committee warned against South Korea’s “increasing use of criminal defamation laws to prosecute persons who criticize government action.” Freedom House, a rights group based in Washington, criticized “the increased intimidation of political opponents”

The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. But defamation laws here carry penalties that include prison — up to three years for comments that are true and up to seven for statements considered false — if they are deemed not in the public interest. Critics say the distinction is vague and opens the door to abuse by prosecutors.

“They don’t seem to care whether they win these cases,” the group said in a recent report, noting that the officials often lose in court. “The real purpose is to create a chilling effect among people criticizing and scrutinizing the government.”

The recent examples that caused the international stir are Park Yu-ha’ case and Japanese journalist Tatsuya Kato’ case.

South Korean prosecutors charged Mr. Kato with defaming the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye. Mr. Kato has not been arrested, but he is barred from leaving South Korea.

The fact that Korean prosecutors have not pressed charges against the Korean newspaper, but only against the Sankei, a conservative newspaper that has been critical of South Korea on history issues, has led some Japanese to call the indictment politically motivated.


Disputing Korean Narrative on ‘Comfort Women,’ a Professor Draws Fierce Backlash – New York Times

In February, a South Korean court ordered Ms. Park’s book, “Comfort Women of the Empire,” redacted in 34 sections where it found her guilty of defaming former comfort women with false facts. Ms. Park is also on trial on the criminal charge of defaming the aging women, widely accepted here as an inviolable symbol of Korea’s suffering under colonial rule by Japan and its need for historical justice, and she is being sued for defamation by some of the women themselves.

The women have called for Ms. Park’s expulsion from Sejong University in Seoul, where she is a professor of Japanese literature. Other researchers say she is an apologist for Japan’s war crimes. On social media, she has been vilified as a “pro-Japanese traitor.”

“They do not want you to see other aspects of the comfort women,” the soft-spoken Ms. Park said during a recent interview at a quiet street-corner cafe run by one of her supporters. “If you do, they think you are diluting the issue, giving Japan indulgence.”

AS she researched her book, combing through a rich archive in South Korea and Japan and interviewing surviving comfort women, Ms. Park, 58, said she came to realize that such a sanitized, uniform image of Korean comfort women did not fully explain who they were and only deepened this most emotional of the many disputes between South Korea and Japan.

In her book, she emphasized that it was profiteering Korean collaborators, as well as private Japanese recruiters, who forced or lured women into the “comfort stations,” where life included both rape and prostitution. There is no evidence, she wrote, that the Japanese government was officially involved in, and therefore legally responsible for, coercing Korean women.

I’ve read the court records of both cases, but they were like “Medieval Inquisition“.

The South Korean government try to control what Koreans think… teach one fixed narrative of history..  It damages democracy and critical thinking.

So, I stand by my statement.

I think this should be stopped right now. You know why? Because if you keep people in a clean room for a long time, they loose immunity. And when they are exposed by a propaganda, they tend to be tricked so easily.

In addition, by making it illegal, real “traitors” would go underground or disguise themselves and make it harder to identify them.


Social Pressure

Was this patriotism going too far under the influence of alcohol?

2013.09.12 14:42

A man in his thirties beat a man in his nineties to death because he supported the Japanese rule of Korea. The court imposed a heavy sentence upon the assailant

In May 2013, 38 year-old Mr. Hwang quarreled with 95 year-old Mr. Park in Chongmyo Park in Chongno ward, Seoul.
Mr. Park said, “I fondly recall the period of Japan’s rule. It was fortunate for Korea to have been ruled by Japan.” Mr. Hwang was drunk and could not control his temper. Mr. Hwang kicked Mr. Park, forcefully took his 80cm long walking stick supporting him and hit his face several times.
Mr. Park was taken to a hospital. He was diagnosed with cerebral hemorrhaging and a fractured skull, which would take eight weeks to heal. Mr. Hwang was charged with assault after interrogation by police.

At first, the court categorized this case as a simple assault and entrusted it to independent court. However, after Mr. Park died in the hospital, the situation developed.
The prosecutor attributed the death of Mr. Park to the assault by Mr.Hwang, and changed the charge from assault to assault causing death. The case was also transferred to an agreement court where three judges presided over the trial.

Mr. Hwang claimed, during his trial, that he was so drunk that he was unable to assume responsibility in the court, but he was faced with a heavy charge.

On September 10th, Seoul District Court 24th detective (chief judge Kim Young Gwan) ruled Hwang guilty of all charges, and sentenced Hwang to five years in prison.

The court said, “Hwang beat Mr. Park to death without any particular motive to death. Dire penalties are inevitable as he has never cordially apologized to the victim and the bereaved family.”


Park Yuha and the Nuances of the Comfort Women

I watched this video against my better judgment, fearing that it would bring up some bitter memories, and it did. I feel sorry for Ms. Park because I think I know a little bit about what she is going through. Though I was never sued, I was essentially driven out of Korea for writing online posts that questioned and disputed Korea’s historical claim to Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo / Takeshima). In spite of having lived and worked in Korea for many years, I was still surprised to learn how much of a taboo it was to question Korea’s historical claim to Dokdo. In fact, I was shocked to see Korean coworkers ostracize me as quickly as they did, coworkers who had just previously been very friendly with me, frequently asked for my help, and praised my abilities and work.

My Dokdo postings essentially got me fired and blacklisted in Korea. And I think questioning Korea’s claims on the Comfort Women is probably just as taboo, though I have not personally experienced any backlash for discussing the comfort women or posting translations of old Korean newspaper articles on the subject. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to have an honest debate on these two subjects in Korea, so if you are a historian in the United States or another country and want access to Korean historians and archives, you either tow the Korean line on these two subjects or avoid them like the plague for fear of being ostracized.

As for the Comfort Women, not only did the Comfort Woman in the audio interview in this video dispute Korean claims, but other Comfort Women have also disputed them. Before the comfort women became so indoctrinated, I remember reading an interview with one of them who said that Korean Comfort Women supported Japan’s war in Asia and the Pacific. She said the women used to truly get excited when they heard news of Japanese victories and would cheer along with the Japanese soldiers. She tried to excuse herself and the other women by saying they were young and didn’t know any better because they had grown up as members of the Japanese Empire. She said even though people may not want to hear it, it was true.

And then there is also this: After the Japanese were defeated and left Korea, the new Korean government set up its own “Comfort Women” system for the UN soldiers who came to Korea to fight in the Korean War, which begs the question: “If Koreans really believed that the ‘comfort women’ were ‘sex slaves’ and were bothered by that fact, why did they establish their own comfort woman system and even continue to refer to the women as ‘comfort women'”?

There are so many example like this.


U.N. special rapporteur warns on on the right to freedom of expression in South Korea




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