SOUTH KOREA: Ghosts from the dictatorial past haunts innocent civilians even today

Dr. Kang Yong-ju is a medical doctor from Gwangju, South Korea. Dr. Kang is a victim of the notorious National Security Law and the Security Surveillance Act of South Korea.

When Kang was a student in the high school, he participated in the Gwangju democratic movement in 1980, popularly known as the “Gwangju Uprising.” Later, during his college days, the authorities arrested Kang, then a third-year medical student. The accusation against Kang was that he along with a few of his fellow students were plotting to trigger a second Gwangju uprising.

The authorities tortured Kang for about 35 days whilst in custody, about which there is yet to be any investigation. A doctored trial undertaken by the courts under the dictatorship of President Mr. Chun Doo-hwan, convicted Kang to 13-year prison sentence.

During his time in prison, Kang refused to abide by the rules imposed upon him to swear allegiance to the then South Korean dictatorship. For this, he was sentenced to an additional year in prison. After 14 years in prison Kang was released in February 1999.

Despite the political background under which Kang was arrested and sentenced to prison, owing to the provisions of the Security Surveillance Act in South Korea, even today, Kang is required to report regularly to the authorities. Persons sentenced to prison for breaching the National Security Law are to report their whereabouts, travel plans, family relations, occupation, and financial status to a local police office within seven days of leaving prison, and every third month thereafter.

However, the South Korean government does not enforce this law upon everyone. Over the years, a large number of persons have been released from custody after the completion of their prison term, for offences they were arbitrarily charged with and punished, under the National Security Law. Yet it is reported that only a few persons are required to report to the authorities under the Security Surveillance Act. There is an allegation, that today, the administration is using the provision of this law, selectively and arbitrarily, and if required, to harass persons who dare to speak up publically against the administration.

Kang has refused to abide by these draconian provisions in the law, that perpetually treats a person a convict, even after the person has completed his/her prison sentence. For this, the authorities have taken action against Kang. He was arrested twice, and after summary trials, fined and released. Now the authorities have charged him again, and Kang is subject to a full trial, which he is contesting.

The provisions of the National Security Law and the Security Surveillance Act, authorises the South Korean authorities to order a person convicted for an offenceunder the National Security Law for a period of three years or above, to report regularly to the authorities. If a person fails to comply with the order, a criminal case could be registered against him.

This means if the person moves to a new address he has to report that. The person must answer all calls from the police, at all times. If the person wishes to travel, he has to provide advance notice to the police with the details of the travel, including destination, duration and travel companions. The police can prohibit the person from meeting or contacting other persons or from attending public gatherings or demonstrations. The authorities could also legally demand, from anyone related to the person, like a co-worker or a friend or a family member, to provide information about the person. In essence, the law treats persons like Kang, a convict for life.

These provisions in the two laws – the National Security Law and the Security Surveillance Act – runs contrary to the provisions of the constitution of South Korea. In particular, the procedures under the above two laws conflict with: Article 10 (that guarantees human dignity and the right to pursue happiness, and the states duty to guarantee human rights); Article 12 (right to liberty); Article 14 (freedom of movement); Article 17 (privacy); Article 18 (privacy of correspondence); and Article 21 (freedom of association and assembly).

Kang’s refusal to comply with the provisions of the National Security Law and the Security Surveillance Act, therefore is a fight to protect his fundamental rights. Kang is a representative of other fellow citizens who are victims of the dark days of dictatorship in South Korea, and the draconian legalisations such regimes have thrusted upon the people of Korea, that are still being used to silence political dissent.

The South Korean government must therefore immediately review the two legislations, the National Security Law and the Security Surveillance Act and repeal the laws as they conflict with the principles of democracy and constitutional guarantees. The prosecution against Kang must be dropped, and the government must compensate Kang for the hardships that he has faced due to the operation of the two laws. The Asian Human Rights Commission extends all its support to Dr. Kang and his relentless struggle for the true rooting of liberal democracy and democratic values in South Korea.