In South Korea, praising North Korea results in criminal charges
SEOUL — After seven police officers carted off his books and computer disks, Kim Seung-kyu endured eight marathon interrogation sessions with chain-smoking investigators. His crime: glorifying North Korea.
Since a conservative government took power in 2008, indictments have shot up under a South Korean security law that makes it a crime to praise, sympathize or cooperate with North Korea.
More than 150 were questioned and 60 charged in 2010, up from 39 questioned and 36 charged in 2007, officials say.
In another sign of stepped-up enforcement, a South Korean government agency launched a team on Wednesday that will examine Facebook and Twitter posts and smartphone applications to cope with what it says is a growing volume of illicit content, including violations of the security law.
The National Security Law raises questions about freedom of expression in the otherwise democratic country, which ended decades of autocratic rule in the late 1980s.
But calls from liberal politicians and activists to scrap or revise the law so far have come to nothing in a nation still wary of the North.
Kim was convicted, but his sentence was suspended. He is appealing. All he did, he says, was repost articles, songs and other available information about the North on his blog.
South Korean Prosecutor-General Han Sang-dae vowed in a speech in August to “declare war” on North Korean sympathizers: “They must be punished and removed.”
The law has its origins in the founding of South Korea in 1948 as a bastion of anti-communism on the doorstep of the Soviet-backed North - when strongmen ruled Seoul and anti-government leftists fought bloody insurgencies.
The law touches on sensitive issues in South Korea, still technically at war with the North. North Korean commandos tried to assassinate South Korean presidents in 1968 and 1983, and many South Koreans say they still fear their neighbor.
The security law was widely used during a tense nuclear standoff in the early 2000s, but the number of cases dipped sharply during the liberal government that preceded the current one. The liberals advocated engaging the North and providing large amounts of aid.