U.N. rapporteur reports freedom of expression severely curtailed under Lee administration

Posted on : 2011-02-17 14:58 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
The report supports continued criticism that human rights have been greatly curtailed by the Lee administration

By Son Jun-hyun, Senior Staff Writer  


A report that is to be submitted to the United Nations this year states that freedom of expression has receded substantially in South Korea under the Lee Myung-bak administration and recommends that the South Korean government initiate improvements. The report, written by U.N. Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression Frank La Rue following a May 2010 visit and investigation, serves as an important measure of the human rights situation in the country and is expected to draw charges from the international community that South Korea is an underdeveloped human rights nation.

The English-language report titled “Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, and Culture Rights, Including the Right to Development,” a copy of which was acquired Wednesday by the Hankyoreh, states that the scope of freedom of expression has diminished in South Korea since the candlelight vigil demonstrations against the full-scale resumption of U.S. beef imports in 2008.

The report also noted an increasing number of cases where individuals who present opinions that do not agree with the government’s position are prosecuted and punished based on domestic laws and regulations that do not conform to international law.

Over its length of 28 A4-sized pages, the report includes expressions of concern about or recommendations of amendments to the South Korean human rights situation in eight areas, including defamation and freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet, freedoms of opinion and expression during election campaigns, freedom of assembly, restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression for reasons of national security, and rights to free opinion and expression for government employees.

Citing the arrest of television news show producers who reported on U.S. beef, La Rue said that a number of criminal defamation lawsuits are being lodged in cases of expression for the public good and used to punish individuals who criticize the administration. Noting that prohibitions on defamation are also stipulated in civil law, La Rue recommended that the crime of defamation be deleted from the criminal code.

La Rue also made reference to a suit filed by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) claiming damages from Hope Institute Executive Director Park Won-soon for defamation. La Rue said that government officials and public institutions should refrain from filing civil suits on defamation charges in the interest of citizen monitoring of public officials.

La Rue welcomed a December unconstitutionality ruling on the Framework Act on Telecommunications, which has been abused to restrict freedom of opinion on the Internet, as witnessed in the “Minerva” case. With regard to the Internet real name system, he recommended examining other means of identity verification and applying the system only in cases where there are substantial grounds for believing the individual will commit a crime.

La Rue also recommended the abolition of the Korea Communication Standards Commission (KOCSC), expressing concern about the fact that the KOCSC is empowered to review and reject or suspend information whose distribution is prohibited by the Information and Communications Network Act, including information deemed defamatory or a matter of national confidentiality. He expressed concerns that the KOCSC, whose members are appointed by the president, might function as what amounts to a censorship organization deleting online criticisms of the administration, and he remarked on the absence of sufficient safeguards to prevent this.

La Rue recommended remedial measures to address the practice South Korea’s notification system for assemblies, which in effect has operated as a permit system. La Rue also recommended remedial measures to address in addition to the failure to properly guarantee freedoms of political opinion and expression for public school teachers, and he urged the abolition of Item 7 of the National Security Act stipulating punishment for acts of praise and sympathy for anti-state groups.

“The Lee Myung-bak administration, which goes on about ‘advanced Korea’ every time it opens its mouth, suffered a major embarrassment from the international human rights community despite being a U.N. Human Rights Council member nation,” said former National Human Rights Commission of Korea Policy Director Kim Hyung-wan. “The international embarrassment could have been avoided if the NHRCK had just done its job faithfully.”

La Rue submitted the report to the South Korean government on Jan. 31. It was confirmed that around ten government institutions, including the Ministry of Justice, the NHRCK, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST), the KCC, and the National Police Agency, have been examining the truth of the report’s claims since Feb. 14.

This is the first report from a U.N. special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression issuing recommendations to the government regarding the domestic human rights situation since a report issued 16 years ago in 1995 by Abid Hussain. At the time, Hussain recommended abolition of the National Security Act and the release of those imprisoned for exercise of freedom of expression.

A human rights group official who claimed to have examined the report said that it contained “a relatively accurate picture of the regression of human rights in South Korea.”

“Unlike the reports by international NGOs or individual countries, a U.N. report carries a high level of reliability and influence,” the official said.

The report is scheduled to be officially delivered to the UNHRC in June.

An official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the report was “a draft for which Mr. La Rue requested that the South Korean government verify the accuracy of the content prior to formal submission to the UNHRC.”

“We are still in the stage of gathering opinions from the different offices and ministries, so if a government opinion is issued, I imagine it can be done at the official announcement in June at the UNHRC meeting,” the official added.


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