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How to end up in prison for a "retweet" in the South Korean democratic paradise, who threatens the safety of South Korean nation and how is it being in an opposition in the Land of the Morning Calm.
South Korea, opposed to its northern neighbor, is usually imagined as a blooming democracy. 2014 freedom rating of Freedom House classifies it as "free" (unlike the "non-free" DPRK, China and Russia). But there is one act in the law system of the Republic of Korea that crosses out every prove that South Koreans have managed to build a democratic paradise. This is the National Security Act.
In order to understand how this act is threatening the rights and freedom of South Korean citizens, we have to look into its history. It was adopted on December, 1 1948 – only 3 and a half months after the Republic of Korea's establishment. Not long before that almost 40 years of the Japanese rule in Korea ended with Japan's loss in the WWII. After the liberation of the unified Korea from Japan the confrontation between anticommunists and People's Committees' supporters strengthened. We must note that the beginning there were more left-wing policy supporters in the South, so logically South Koreans were to be build communism, not North Koreans. But as we know history did its thing: the liberating troops of the Red Army stood in the North, and the American liberators in the South. Both Soviets and Americans were "liberating" Korea from anything but their own influence, of course. So soon enough the northerners started their movement towards the "bright communistic future", and the southerners went with the "tainted West".
Anyways, in the first years of the existence of the free capitalistic Republic of Korea the problem of stopping the spread of communistic ideology was really sharp. So in order to increase the effectiveness of fighting with "left-wings", or with the "inside enemy", the National Assemble suggested adopting a law setting strict sanctions for the national treason. It was adopted under the name of National Security Act. By 1949 (one month since adoption) more than 30,000 people had been arrested; people that were suspected for helping the communists were accused in 80% of lawsuits; in the first year 188621 people were found guilty on it. The numbers are impressive. Thanks to that law, the authorities managed to send enormous number of regime oppositionists and their sympathizers to jail. Under the Act the people not in favor of the government were regularly sent to prison for the actions that didn't really threaten South Korean national security: starting from the approval of the DPRK's regime and ending with running for presidency. We should note that the main argument that the Act was necessary has always been the necessity of protection from North Korea. In reality this law turned into a perfect tool for repressions.
During the suppression of a communist rebellion in Yeosu, 1948
During the rule of military dictators Park Chung-hee (1961-1979) and Chun Doo-hwan (1980-1988) the National Security Act was used especially frequently. Under Park's orders such opposition leaders as Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam were arrested. Kim Dae-jung was a candidate from the opposition on the elections of 1971, and in 1973 he was captured in Tokyo and taken into custody. It's said that yakuza took part in the capture of Kim Dae-jung (who 2 decades later became the President and got the Nobel Peace Prize) in Tokyo.
It seemed that Chun Doo-hwan was ready to use everything for getting and keeping the power and was using the principle "the end justifies the means". He used violent means of suppressing the anti-governmental events – the Gwangju Massacre of 1980, for example, is widely known. It's quite natural that Chun and his government were actively using the Act. A lot of participants of anti-governmental demonstrations were convicted under it. The examples from history show that during Chun's rule one could go to jail for anything at all: in 1987 the head of one of the publishing houses was arrested for publishing tour notes of some American citizens who were suspected of sympathizing with communists.
"Gwangju Uprising", 1980
Presidents Rhee (the first president of the Republic of Korea), Park and Chun actively used the blurry wording of the Act. We offer you some extracts from it at the end of the article. The most criticized part of the Act is Article 7 of Chapter 2, which implies sanctions for people who sympathize with anti-governmental organizations or approve of their actions. So this approval can be punished by 7 years of prison, while entering one of such groups can cost one freedom for one or more years. The people who spread the false information which threatens public order can be jailed for more than 2 years. Exactly this article was often used to send the oppositionists of a current government, objectionable people and participants of anti-governmental demonstrations to jail. You can go to prison even for approving of the oppositional meeting or sympathizing North Korea on the Internet. In 2012 one young South Korean citizen was convicted to 10 months of prison for a "retweet" of a North Korean propaganda message. That is the freedom of speech South Korean style.
Well we did pile up the agony and there are less convicted on the Act now than there were in the times of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan. Since the so-called "democratization" in the 1990s an opinion that the Act should be abolished has been becoming more and more popular. However, this opinion is spread mainly among the human rights organizations and liberal parties. There were several votings for the cancellation of the Act in the Parliament of South Korea, but the majority was against it. This can be explained by the fact that the majority of seats is taken by the conservative Saenuri party, not by the liberals. The Act is still in power. In 1998, particularly, it was used to suppress the students' uprisings triggered by the economical crisis.
Even though the Act isn't used as often as it was used in times of military dictators it still remains a repressive instrument of South Korean authorities. In 2013 102 people were sent to the courtroom because of it, most of who, as you can guess, are the oppositionists. During the last years Internet censorship has strengthened: in 2013 39296 resources were banned, most of which on the grounds of the Act. So it's hard to call South Korea a blooming democratic paradise: the government can send to jail anyone and block any web-page that has "improper" information. So South Koreans can sleep safe and sound. Nothing threatens their national security.
As we promised, we give you the extracts from the Act in addition to the extracts from Article 7 listed above. The unofficial translation of the Act is available at http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/55a/205.html
This Law is to suppress anti-State acts that endanger national security and to ensure nation's security, people's life and freedom.
According to the Act, the term anti-State groups refers to domestic or foreign organizations or groups whose intentions are to conduct or assist infiltration of the Government or to cause national disturbances. In the second chapter of the Act we can see a list of illegal actions and sanctions against their executors. For organizing of the anti-governmental group one can be given a life sentence or a death penalty. The leaders of such groups can be convicted to 5 years of imprisonment. The Article 5 of Chapter 2 implies 7 years of imprisonment for the complicity towards antigovernmental organizations.
According to Article 9 people who are found to sponsor anti-governmental deeds can be imprisoned for 10 years.
Also, Article 10 implies the imprisonment for 5 years for non-disclosure of anti-governmental activities to the authorities.