SOUTH KOREA: Seven activists detained and charged with violating the National Security Law


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-32-2001
ISSUES: Rule of law,

UA-32-2001: Seven activists detained and charged with violating the National Security Law

SOUTH KOREA: The National Security Law – The denial of the right of freedom of assembly, expression and conscience 

The latest RESPONSE for this appeal is available at: 

On August 24, seven activists among 337 South Korean civic, labour and religious delegates were arrested on charges of violating the National Security Law (NSL) after participating in the 2001 Grand Celebration for Reunification that was held in Pyongyang, North Korea, from August 15 to 21 to celebrate the 56th Korean independence day from Japanese colonisation. Upon their return home, 16 delegates were taken by the police at Kimpo domestic airport for questioning about their alleged controversial activities during this event in North Korea. 

Six detainees are officials of the Pan-National Alliance for the Reunification of the Fatherland or ‘Beomminreon’. The National Intelligence Service (the former Korean Central Intelligence Agency or KCIA), which detained the six officials, suspects that the Beomminreon officials violated the NSL by allegedly contacting their North Korean counterparts prior to their departure to discuss their participation in the North Korean Youth League meetings (a charge under Article 8 of the NSL), discussions which were unrelated to the liberation day event and therefore could bring additional charges. 

Meanwhile, Prof. Kang Jeong-goo, who teaches at Dongkuk University in Seoul, was charged for praising the late North Korean president, Kim Il-sung, and the national defence commission chairman, Kim Jong-il, during this event (a charge under Article 7 of the NSL). Prof. Kang caused a controversy when he signed a visitor’s book at Mangyongdae, the birthplace of Kim Il-sung, and left a note that read: “Let’s achieve reunification by inheriting the Mangyongdae spirit,?which was interpreted as praise for Kim Il-sung and his spirit. The police have questioned Prof. Kang and 10 others over their alleged pro-North Korean activities in Pyongyang. They also confiscated computer files and other materials from the residences and offices of Prof. Kang and two other delegates. 

The seven activists who were detained are (position, organisation, charges): 

1. KANG Jeong-goo, professor at Dongkuk University (Article 7) 
2. KIM Kyu-cheol, vice chairperson of Beomminreon (Articles 6 and 7) 
3. CHUN Sang-bong, vice chairperson of Beomminreon (Articles 6 and 7) 
4. MUN Jae-ryong, vice chairperson of the Seoul regional branch of Beomminreon (Articles 6 and 7) 
5. KIM Seo-chang, Central Committee member of Beomminreon (Articles 6 and 7) 
6. LIM Dong-kyu, chairperson of the Kwangju-Chonnam regional branch of Beomminreon (Articles 6 and 7) 
7. PARK Jong-hwa, general secretary of the Kwangju Chonnam regional branch of Beomminreon (Articles 6 and 7) 


A Living Ghost – The National Security Law of South Korea 

The National Security Law (NSL) of South Korea has cast a dark shadow of oppression on countless people since its enactment in 1948. The threat from North Korea, which was the basic rationale for its existence, has justified all kinds of restrictions and abuses of human rights in Korea since the division of the country in1945. Since its enactment, the NSL has played a critical role in the maintenance of dictatorial regimes in South Korea by casting a pervasive net of fear and oppression over the people. It has been used to arrest thousands of innocent people unfairly and unjustly. In fact, it has been no more than a useful instrument for dictatorship. 

History shows that the law has been the most important means to suppress the basic freedom of the people. Barely a year after its enactment the NSL was used to crack down and arrest more than 100,000 people of various political persuasions who were opposed to the government’s policies. Especially during the military regimes of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, more than 10,000 people were tried and received jail terms for violating the NSL. Some of these prisoners were in jail for more than 20 years. 

Despite the victory in the 1998 presidential election of Kim Dae-jung, a former long-term dissident and the winner of the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize, the NSL still exits and continues its fearful influence by limiting and violating the basic human rights of the Korean people. Since President Kim took office, there has been much discussion about reforming the NSL. Most human rights and civic organisations in South Korea have demanded that the NSL be abolished. On the other hand, political parties, including Kim Dae-jung’s party, have insisted on, at best, only a partial amendment of the NSL. However, there is strong consent among the people that the NSL should be abolished or amended soon. According to a recent survey, 78.2 percent of South Korean citizens are in favour of mitigating or repealing the law. 

The NSL is widely criticised for its arbitrary components. For example, when it is broadly applied, Article 7 of the NSL can be used to suppress virtually any activity. The mere possession of a book or viewing a film, for instance, can be considered a violation of Article 7. This surreal application of the law has occurred many times. The Article 7 states: 

“(1) Any person who has benefited the anti-state organisation by way of praising, encouraging or siding with or through other means the activities of an anti-state organisation, its member or a person who has been under instruction from such organisation shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than seven years. 
. . . 

“(5) Any person who has, for the purpose of committing the actions as stipulated in Paragraphs 1 through 4 of this article, produced, imported, duplicated, possessed, transported, disseminated, sold or acquired documents, drawings or any other similar means of expression shall be punished by the same penalty as set forth in each paragraph.” 


Please write to the following people, urging them to abolish the NSL and release the seven detainees immediately. 

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Your Excellency, 

First of all, I was upset to hear that the National Security Law (NSL) of South Korea still exists or continues, at best, without any amendment. Its existence creates fear in society by limiting and violating the basic human rights of the Korean people even though four years have passed since you became the president of the country. 

I have heard so many times about the notorious role of the NSL in Korea and its terrible impact on the Korean democratic and reunification movement. That is why the abolition of the NSL has always been at the top of the list of demands in the country’s long journey for democratisation and the reunification of Korea. I strongly urge you to abolish the NSL immediately. This act will not only benefit your own country but will be a good signal to other Asian countries which also oppress their people under draconian laws like the NSL, such as the Internal Security Act (ISA) in Malaysia. 

I once again firmly urge you to take further steps to abolish the NSL and to release immediately the seven detainees without any preconditions. 

Yours sincerely, 


Mr. Kim Dae-jung 
President of Republic of Korea 
The Chungwoadae 
1 Sejong-ro, Chonro-gu 
Seoul, 110-050 
FAX: +82 2 770-0202 
TEL: +82 2 770-0027 
SALUTATION: Your Excellency 

Send copies to: 

Mr. Choi Kyung-won 
Ministry of Justice 
1 Jungang-dong, Kwachon-si 
Kyonggi Province, 427-760 
FAX: +822 504-3337 or +822 503-7046 

Mr. Kim Jung-kwon 
Representative of the New Millenium Democratic Party 
Kisan Building, 15 Yoido-dong, Youngdeungpo-gu 
Seoul, 150-010 
FAX: +82 2 761-0550 
TEL: +82 2 784-2855 

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-32-2001
Countries : South Korea,
Issues : Rule of law,