UN Special Rapporteur diagnosed ‘Retreatment’ of the Freedom of Expression for the Lee Myung-bak Government
- 2010.05.05 (10:34:00)
UN Special Rapporteur diagnosed ‘Retreatment’ of the Freedom of Expression for the Lee Myung-bak Government
Mr. Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression (hereafter the Special Rapporteur), had a country visit of Korea from May 6 to May 17, 2010, finished the investigation for the freedom of expression in Korea, and returned. The Special Rapporteur held a press conference in the Press center at 10:30 AM on May 17 to present the result of the investigation for ten days.
The Special Rapporteur expressed deep disappointments that he couldn’t meet even one minister as well as the president and the prime minister and that he also couldn’t meet the members of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, the Public Prosecutor General, and the executives of the National Intelligence Service. He pointed out that it is an important problem concerned not for personal matters but for official tasks entrusted from the UN Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur criticized that there is no willingness on human rights reflecting interview with high-ranking officials was not held.
And he also worried about shrinking of the freedom of expression, and the situation has been aggravating since the candle vigil in 2008. He mentioned that people are prosecuted simply because they claimed the freedom of expression and it could affect the shrinkage of freedom of expression.
The standpoints of the NGOs on human rights were announced, regarding the statement on each subject by The Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression.
South Korean NGOs’ Opinions Regarding the Press Conference of Mr. Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Expression
Current S. Korean Regime Threatens Freedom of Expression
■ Freedom of Expression on the Internet
The UN special rapporteur discussed the freedom of expression on the internet as major parts of the press conference today. Even though South Korea is the world’s most wired nation and Korean internet users are very active, the South Korean government is stifling free expressions on the internet. This ambivalent situation is enough to attract attention.
First of all, the UN special rapporteur firmly urged the government to remove ‘an article of the Telecommunication Law’ which was enacted for punishing spreading false facts or groundless rumors on the internet. Some internet users and Park Dae-sung who is better known here as his Internet alias "Minerva" were prosecuted for violating the article.
Moreover, the rapporteur expressed concerns about the situation that the Internet postings are frequently and arbitrarily erased by the requests of Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) and by the temporary measures of portal sites. Especially, he criticized acidly the KCSC as ‘a censor’ which erases postings containing criticism to the government without any reasonable process and impugned the insistence that the KCSC is a private and independent organization. The special rapporteur paid attention to the examples deleting postings such as the cases of the Internet Cafe for Media Consumer Right and of a pastor, Mr. Choi Byung-sung. The latter case exposed that certain companies used the cements containing carcinogenic substances. The prosecution and courts dealing with theses cases should listen to the rapporteur's comments.
In addition, the rapporteur indicated that the real name identification system on the Internet is no different than the pre-censorship. Particularly, he expressed worries about requiring users’ real names before they post messages at online news boards prior to local elections, which risks undermining the freedom of expression of political views during the election period. This comment has great implications for us as the government is planning to enforce the real name identification system on the Internet from May 20th for the upcoming local elections.
South Korean Internet users and civil activists also have pointed out the above issues with worrying about the restriction of the freedom of Internet-based expressions as the special rapporteur mentioned. The fact that our opinions about the issues are corresponded with the international human right standards seems natural but tragic.
(For inquiries: Jinbo Network Center, Jang Yeo-Kyung 82-02-701-7104)
The UN special rapporteur of the freedom of expression gave attention to the arrest and prosecution of four producers and one script-writer of the Munwha Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)'s investigative program, ‘PD Diary’ who reported the alleged risk of mad cow disease associated with beef import from the United States of America and criticized government officials who were in charge of negotiations.
He mentioned another case of Mr. Park Won-soon, director of a non-governmental organization too. This case is unprecedented as the "nation" itself has filed a lawsuit as a plaintiff.
The special rapporteur recommended the South Korean government to remove the defamation clause from the Criminal Code although it has been decreased to apply the clause to real cases. And he called on the government to take more generous attitude for accepting criticism towards the government as stating the article 19(3) of the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR). Also he emphasized the principle that defamation cannot be brought by a third party or a State institution as a plaintiff.
(For inquiries: Peoples’ Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Lee Ji-eun 82-02-723-0666, Minbyun-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, Lee Dong-wha 82-02-522-7284)
■ Freedom of Assembly
The UN special rapporteur pointed out the problem of the Assembly and Demonstration Act which enforce individuals to report assemblies to the police beforehand. The rapporteur welcomed the decision by the Constitutional Court that the prohibition on assemblies after sunset and before sunrise in the Assembly Act is unconstitutional.
The National Assembly should listen to the voices of demand to revise the unconstitutional Assembly Act. Also the rapporteur called upon the Government to ensure that all law enforcement officials must wear something for identification that is clearly recognized during assemblies and demonstrations. Joint Meeting for Human Rights Organization supports his opinion and urges the government to carry out the UN rapporteur’s requests.
(For inquiries: Human Right Organization Joint Meeting, Choi Eun-a 82-02-365-5363)
■ Freedom of Expression Before Elections
Mr. Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Expression, expressed concerns about South Korean election law and the guidelines regarding the local elections issued by the National Election Commission (NEC) at the press conference.
The restrictive interpretation of the provisions of the Public Officials Election Act in the recent guidelines of the NEC may limit communication on key election issues and public policies such as the 4 river project or the free school meal.
The rapporteur also expressed worries about the fact that the Public Officials Elections Law prohibits conducting any election campaign 180 days before the Election Day since it could mean that if there are two elections in a year then informing about the major issues would be banned during the whole year.
Therefore the NEC should abolish the guidelines which block individuals from the freedom of expressing political opinions during the elections with accepting the recommendations of the UN rapporteur. We urges the government to revise the article 93 of the Public Official Election Act which prohibits voters from expressing various voices.
(For inquiries: Peoples’ Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Lee Ji-eun 82-02-723-0666)
■ National Security Law
Special Rappoteur paid attention to the fact that the National Security Law was still applied in Korea and, especially, pointed out that the article 7 of the National Security Law was ambiguous. He also emphasized that the National Security Law should be applied clearly and limitedly. The Korean Government must abolish the National Security Law immediately because the Special Rappoteur recommended the abolition of the National Security Law again as the Special Rappoteur had done 15 years ago.
Moreover, the Special Rappoteur took notice of the fact that Korean Government didn't take any action on UN Human Rights Committee(UNHRC)'s individual complaint event of Mr. Kim GeunTae, Mr. Shin HakChul, and Mr. Park TaeHoon even though the conclusion that the event violated the act 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights was informed. The Special Rappoteur recommended the Korean Government to take actions on carrying out the conclusion of UNHRC. He also paid attention to the case of disciplinary actions on military judicial officers who filed a constitutional appeal about the specification of seditious books and related events by the Ministry of National Defense. He emphasized that the specification of seditious books by the Ministry of National Defense was an unprecedented event worldwide and stressed that soldiers' rights to know and choose books should be protected.
(For inquiries: Minkahyup 763-2606, Lee DongHwa(Minbyun) 02-522-7284)
■ Public Broadcasting, Media Diversity and Freedom of Speech
The Special Rappoteur indicated that freedom of expression in Korea severely moved back over the last 2 years of the MB Government, and especially took notice of 3 parts of the freedom of media .
First of all, he pointed out that it was unfair that the government sued production crews of 'PD Diary' for libel about their criticism reports on U.S. beef. He made it clear that the journalists must not be reprimanded like being arrested, restricted, imposed a fine, dismissed, and fired because of their natural duties, criticizing authority and monitoring activities, and should not be punished for defamation, obstruction of business. He also paid attention to the symptoms that the independence of public broadcasting was severely undermined. Especially, he said that the term of the head of public broadcasting, which should be independent from political authority, must be ensured even though the reins of government was changed. This is the message of warning to the MB government that tries to handle broadcasting systems for their tastes through controlling governance by putting pro-government personnel into YTN, KBS, and recently MBC.
Lastly, he mentioned about the media law which was surprisingly rushed through by the ruling party last July. He, especially, took notice of the fact that the media law seriously undermined the diversity of media though relieving ownership regulation on conglomerates, newspaper plutocrats and foreigners. The media law is invalid because the progress was illegal as the Constitutional Court advised, and it must be re-discussed in the National Assembly.
(For inquiries: Nam HanGil (National Union of Mediaworkers) 02-735-9400)
■ National Human Rights Commission(NHRC)
Meanwhile, NHRC has overlooked the government's behavior to infringe on the freedom of expression, and refused our requests of meeting with senior members many times to hide their behaviors to the international community continuously. As Mr. La Rue officially expressed his regret at NHRC's refusing a joint meeting with the commissioner, NHRC's behavior of taking side of the government is going to be revealed and judged in the international society like that we cannot cover the sky with our hands.
As reaffirmed through Mr. La Rue's opinion, it is contrary to international human rights standards for NHRC to vote down on important human right violation through the formal voting processes of the Committee of the Whole. It is an unprecedented event worldwide with which freedom of expression is withered by the government, to have rejected the opinion about the Park WonSoon defamation case.
In spite of that, it deserves to be criticized that NHRC rejected the opinion with the standard that was not the one of human rights. This will be also applied to the case of 'PD Diary'. If NHRC keeps silent about the government's infringing on the freedom of expression and human right's moving back, we cannot find the meaning of existing of NHRC from anywhere. NHRC should listen to the criticism of the international society, do activities corresponding with the standards of human rights, and actively make a statement against the government if they do behaviors against the standards.
(For inquiries: MyeongSook (Human Right Korea))
■ Freedom of Expression of Public Officers and Teachers
The Special Rappoteur of the freedom of expression expressed his concerns about prohibition of public officers and teachers' expressing their opinions because of their obligations of political neutrality. He also emphasized that public officers and teachers should enjoy their freedom of expression as citizens.
In addition, he declared it as a case which infringed on the freedom of expression that the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers' Union and the National Union of Public Employees were suppressed because of their declaration against the government.
The Special Rappoteur of the freedom of expression also stressed that freedom of assembly/association is a precondition of the freedom of expression in the meeting with the Korean Confederation of Trade Union; the freedom of expression includes forming collective opinions as well as personal rights.
The government must listen to this advice and stop trying to block expressing political opinions such as the declaration of the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers' Union and the National Union of Public Employees, and also ratify ILO convention, the international standard, on the freedom of association.
(For inquiries: Ryu MeeGyung (Korean Confederation of Trade Union))
Korean human rights and social organizations with serious concerns about recession of the freedom of expression in Korea, demand the Korean government to have responsible and active attitudes, listen to the Special Rappoteur's advice and carry it out according to the press statement of the Special Rappoteur. Taking this opportunity of Special Rappoteur's visit to Korea, we expect the Korean government to examine themselves at the aspect of the recession of the freedom of expression and human rights which is happening in Korea, keep trying to guarantee the freedom of expression and protect human rights, the natural rights of citizens.
17. May. 2010
Korean Public Interest Lawyers' Group Gong-Gam, Supporting Workers, Human Right Korea, The center for military human right Korea, Cultural Actions, Democratic Workers' Solidarity, MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, MINKAHYUP-Human Rights Group, Korea Press Consumerism Organization, Korea Center for United Nations Human Rights Policy, Joint Meeting for Human Rights, SARANGBANG Group for Human Rights, Disability Discrimination Act of Solidarity in Korea, Information and Culture Center for the Disabled, Korean Confederation of Trade Unions(National Union of Public Employees, Korean Teachers and Educational Workers' Union, National Union of Mediaworkers, National Transport Workers' Union -Railroad Workers' Union, National Construction Trade Union), Progressive Network Center, People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Korea Catholic Human Right Committee, Network of Human Rights Activists of Youngsters, The Center for Freedom of Information and Transparent Society(CFOI), Korean Gay Men's Human Rights Group CHINGUSAI, The Association of Writers for National Literature, Korea Alliance of Progressive Movements