SOUTH KOREA: New organ established to restrict freedom of expression over the internet 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is gravely concerned with the newly established organ under the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) that has broad authority to restrict freedom of expression over the Social Network Service (SNS) from the internet.

According to the media interview of the chief of the organ, it is authorised by Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection, etc. to restrict information over the internet that may have committed criminal offences such as defamation, violation of National Security Act, pornography, cyber stocking, gambling, drug dealing and fabrication of documents by disconnecting any SNS account.

However, concerns have been raised that it would restrict freedom of expression, particularly under the guise of defamation. In fact, the number of lawsuits and disconnections has been increasing after the Lee Myung Bak’s government came to power. Some of the cases that restricted the freedom of expression include the case of PD Notebook by a former minister of the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries during the national candlelight vigil in 2008, the case of Mr. Park Won Soon by the National Intelligence Service and the case of Mr. Park Dae-sung, a blogger known as ‘Minerva’. All of them were indicted but no one is found guilty by the court. However, the defendants have suffered during court proceedings and this has resulted in a chilling effect over the internet.

It is reported that the President and some members of Parliaments are not satisfied with the criticism by one podcast that has the highest downloads globally. It is called, ‘Naneun Ggomsuda’ which means that ‘I am a petty-minded creep’ that expose allegation of power involved corruption of the President and members of Parliaments with satire. The KCSC is believed to establish the organ in order to target this particular podcast under the guise of law especially defamation.

It is regretful that the country still criminalises defamation despite the fact that both national and international human rights bodies recommended that it be decriminalised. There has not yet been national discourse as to whether or not fame is able to be restored by criminalisation. In fact, the statistics shows that after Mr. Lee’s administration, defamation has been misused even by the government’s institution in order to oppress the opponents or those who are brave enough to criticise or satirize the members of Parliaments.

However, what needs to be understood is that it is not only the matter of criminalisation of defamation as such but the systematic problem that the government’s institution has too much authority to control the information over the internet. In fact, the KCSC can arbitrary delete or block a particular article or information from the internet and even disconnect any account of SNS on its own discretion. How has such an institution the power to restrict freedom of expression and flow of information from the internet without court procedure?

Additionally, it has also power to make such action on the hazardous information over the internet for the healthy communication ethics based on its ambiguous regulations. It has high possibility of illegality if the government department is able to delete any of article or information from the internet without the decision from the court. In fact, many articles or information criticising the President are considered as hazardous information and deleted by the KCSC.

Therefore, the AHRC urges the South Korean government that the current process of such administrative action over the internet should be reviewed and a competent and independent body such as a court should make such decision before action is made. In addition, the ambiguous regulation on hazardous information should be amended accordingly. We further urges that there should be a review on criminality of defamation.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-188-2011
Countries : South Korea,
Issues : Freedom of expression,