UN Member States Call on the Republic of Korea to Remove Arbitrary Restrictions on Freedom of Expression and Assembly
UN Member States Call on the Republic of Korea to Remove Arbitrary Restrictions on Freedom of Expression and Assembly – UN UPR
30 October 2012
By Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Advocacy Consultant – CIVICUS
Consistently ranked among the top nations in the UNDP’s Human Development Index and with a robust, consolidated democracy, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) is largely insulated against international criticism for its human rights shortcomings.
However, on 25 October 2012 during 14th Session of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UN UPR), Korea’s human rights record was put under the microscope.
Of the approximately 70 governments which made interventions during the three-and-half-hour examination, thirteen governments, including Hungary, Japan, South Africa, the United Kingdom, raised concerns relating to arbitrary and unwarranted restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Highlighted by CIVICUS and the Korea-based People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) in a joint submission to the UPR in April 2012, the government of South Korea has increasingly silenced dissenting voices under the National Security Act (NSA), which criminalizes speech in support of North Korea. In February 2012, Mr. Jeong-gun Park, a prominent South Korean activist was arrested for re-tweeting messages from the North Korean Government’s official twitter account. Since 2008, at least 80 other people have been arrested in South Korea for posting pro-North Korean comments online.
Internet in South Korea also remains highly restricted under the NSA. From 2008 to July 2011 the number of blocked websites increased from 2 to 139. Several governments, including Germany, Switzerland and the U.S., echoed these concerns during the UPR, citing the high number of incidences of internet censorship and stressing the need to ensure greater independence of the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC).
In its submission, CIVICUS and PSPD also expressed serious concern related to unwarranted restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly including the arrests of Mr. Song Kyung-Dong, a poet and Mr. Jeong Jin-Woo, a member of the New Progressive Party, for organizing an unlawful assembly in March 2012. During the examination, France and North Korea recommended that South Korea remove undue restrictions on freedom of assembly under the NSA. Poland, which is vying to assume the UN Human Rights Council Presidency this November, recommended that South Korea take measures to ensure that security personnel refrain from excessive use of force at peaceful demonstrations.
In response to concerns raised about limitations on freedom of expression under the National Security Act, representatives of the South Korean delegation, including the Vice Minister of Justice Mr. Ghil Tae-Ki, stated that the NSA has only been invoked in cases where evidence of North Korean propaganda was identified. The Minister further noted that the law has not been applied to silence lawful or peaceful independent dissent. In response to concerns raised by the Polish delegation regarding excessive use of force when monitoring peaceful, demonstrations, the Head of the South Korean Police Agency stated that restrictions on the right to freedom assembly were only invoked when action taken by protestors infringed on the rights of others. He added that all claims of excessive use of force by security personnel are duly investigated.
While the government of South Korea is at liberty to reject, give further consideration to or accept in whole or in part the recommendations put forth by international governments during the 14th Session of the UPR, the Korean delegation made verbal commitments to “conduct a thorough review of all recommendations” and “push for their reflection in the second National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (NAP)”. In doing so, the government of South Korea must create mechanisms to institutionalize cooperation among a wide spectrum of stakeholders, including civil society.
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