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.