SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - A South Korean court Monday acquitted a blogger charged with spreading false information on the Internet under a mysterious pseudonym, in a high-profile case that sparked heated debate over freedom of speech in cyberspace.
Park Dae-sung, 30, an unemployed Seoul resident, was acquitted by the Seoul Central District Court. Presiding Judge Yoo Young-hyeon said he could not see that Park “had the intention to undermine public interest” or that he “realized the contents of the articles in question that he wrote were completely false.”
Park, writing anonymously under the pen name “Minerva” after the Greek goddess of wisdom, caused a sensation and gained a reputation as an economic prophet in South Korea last year by denouncing the government’s handling of the economy and making largely negative predictions.
Some of those, including the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, proved correct, helping spark interest in his online postings and adding to his aura of mystery.
Prosecutors accused him of falsely writing that the government had banned major financial institutions and trade businesses from buying U.S. dollars, and indicted him in January.
The charge carried a penalty of up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 50 million won ($37,500), though prosecutors, who have one week to appeal, had sought an 18-month jail sentence.
Park, dressed casually, was present in the small, packed courtroom, but he did not speak. Some spectators, who appeared to be supporters, cheered when the verdict was announced.
“I’m just happy,” Park’s mother, Kim Chun-hwa, told reporters while wiping away tears.
Park described himself in Web entries as a former securities firm employee with a master’s degree earned in the United States and experience in the field of corporate acquisitions and takeovers.
But prosecutors said Park was an unemployed Seoul resident who studied economics on his own after graduating from a vocational high school and junior college with a major in information and communication.
Opposition political parties and government critics have argued that Park’s arrest was aimed at silencing criticism of the government and that it restricted online freedom of speech in South Korea, one of the world’s most wired and tech-savvy nations.
Park’s identity became public only after his arrest in January.
He had made some 280 postings on bulletin boards on a popular Internet portal. His writings were sprinkled with jargon that suggested he was an economic expert, and his identity was a hot topic of discussion in South Korea amid the global economic crisis.