Several days ago I received an urgent message from a colleague residing in Seoul, South Korea, asking me to send him a copy of North Korea’s New Year Joint Editorial. This is an annual policy statement that the DPRK has issued since the death of former leader Kim Il Sung. It is called “Joint Editorial” because it is published simultaneously by the three leading North Korean newspapers: the Rodong Sinmun (official daily of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea), Joson Inmingun (daily of the Korean People’s Army), and Chongnyon Jonwi (daily of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League).
My colleague needed to study the text of the editorial for a paper he was writing. Try as he may, he was unable to access any website that published the entire document. All websites emanating from the DPRK and any others that might reproduce North Korean propaganda are blocked under South Korea’s National Security Law (NSL). This law was enacted in 1948, just three and a half months after the establishment of the Republic of Korea. Its avowed purpose is “to restrict anti-state acts that endanger national security and to protect [the] nation’s safety and its people’s life and freedom.”
In the past, this law was used not only to shield South Koreans from North Korean influence, but also to prosecute democracy and human rights movements of South Korean citizens by the dictators who ruled South Korea until the restoration of democracy. Between 1961 and 2002, at least 13,178 people were indicted, and 182 of them executed, under the law, according to human rights groups. While attempts to repeal the NSL by two ROK “Sunshine” presidents (Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-Hyun) failed, the law was less rigorously applied under their administrations.
A New York Times article of 7 January 2012 (South Korean Law Casts Wide Net, Snaring Satirists in a Hunt for Spies) illustrates how the NSL has been revived under the current ROK President Lee Myung-Bak. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, say that prosecutors began enforcing the law more vigorously in the months before Mr. Lee took office, when it became clear that conciliation toward the North would end. Some excerpts of the NYT article written by Choe Sang-Hun:
Since Mr. Kim’s death was announced on Dec. 19, South Korea has also intensified the policing of the Internet, where some bloggers called for expressions of condolence, if only to test the government’s tolerance of free speech. Lee Kwang-cheol, a lawyer who is defending several people charged under the National Security Law, said its applications had varied widely depending on the government’s stance toward North Korea.
“What once were called exchanges and cooperation with North Korea are now acts of ‘aiding the enemy,’ ” Mr. Lee said. He cited cases in which people were convicted based on conversations with North Korean officials during trips authorized under previous, more liberal governments.
For years, international rights groups, including the United Nations Human Rights Commission, have urged South Korea to repeal the law. But it has proved resilient in a society where the generation that experienced the 1950-53 Korean War remains wary of Communism, its fears revived by every North Korean military provocation and often stoked for domestic political ends.
In 2010, 151 people were interrogated on suspicion of violating the National Security Law, up from 39 in 2007. The number of people prosecuted for pro-North Korean online activities increased to 82 in 2010 from 5 in 2008. The number of domestic Web sites shut down for pro-North Korean content rose to 178 last year from 18 in 2009.
During the first 10 months of 2011, the police deleted 67,300 Web posts they believed threatened national security by “praising North Korea and denouncing the U.S. and the government,” a sharp rise from 14,430 posts in 2009. The Korea Communications Standards Commission, a government regulatory agency, almost always approved requests by the police or the national spy agency to delete Web content for violating the National Security Law, although only 20 percent of their investigations under the law led to court convictions in 2010, according to government data submitted to Lee Yong-kyung, an opposition lawmaker. (…)
Recently, the South Korean authorities have begun investigating or arresting bloggers who have praised North Korea — jokingly, some of them said — or have downloaded North Korean propaganda that is widely available on the Internet.
These actions have had “a chilling effect on the freedom of expression,” said Rajiv Narayan, an East Asia researcher for Amnesty International.
In August, Prosecutor General Han Sang-dae declared “a war against fellow-traveling pro-North Korean left-wing elements,” and said, “We must punish and remove them.”
A month later, plainclothes police officers ransacked Park Jung-geun’s photography studio and his home in Seoul for 10 hours, copying the hard disks of his computer and his cellphone memory data and confiscating photos and books they deemed suspicious. They have since called him in five times, each time questioning him for hours: Why did he upload Web links to North Korean songs on his Twitter account? Didn’t he know Twitter was “a powerful propaganda tool” for the North? Read more…
So far, CanKor.ca is still accessible via the Internet to South Korean residents. But that may change, because we are making the full text of the offending North Korean editorial available to any and all who have enough patience to read through this long and sometimes opaque document. You may do so by clicking on this link: DPRK New Year’s Joint Editorial. We will let you know if this leads to CanKor being blocked from South Korean eyes.
- North Korean Message on Reunification (CanKor.ca)