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Friday, April 11, 2014

Satirist’s ‘KFC’ Podcast is Litmus Test for South Korean Free Speech

Promotion Image of New Podcast 'KFC', Fair Use Image
Promotion image of new podcast ‘KFC', fair use.
Kim Ou-joon is a satirist and prominent critic of the administration of former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and was the driving force behind the groundbreaking podcast “Naneun Ggomsuda“. In March, he returned to the airwaves after being acquitted on charges of defaming President Park Geun-hye last fall. His new show, “KFC” [ko] (supposedly named in reference to one the of president's nicknames being “Chicken”) has begun airing regularly on Hankyoreh TV, and marks the next test in determining how much leeway the Park administration will give to its critics.
Although South Korea is widely regarded as one of the leading democracies in Asia, recent criticism from a variety of international human rights organizations over the government’s treatment of dissenting voices has led to concerns that the country is lagging behind other nations in freedom of expression.
In particular, criminal defamation laws remain a powerful weapon in government suppression of free speech, a point made repeatedly in a 2011 report from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders. According to a report from UC San Diego professors Stephan Haggard and Jong-sung You, criminal defamation cases have increased five-fold, from roughly 2,000 annual cases at the end of the Kim Dae-jung administration to over 10,000 at the end of the Lee presidency.  
This rise in defamation indictments has corresponded with a dramatic uptick in the amount of web content blocked or deleted by the government’s internet regulation body, the Korea Communications and Standards Commission (KCSC). Figures easily accessed on the KCSC website show that the removal of objectionable content – which covers a range of categories from obscenity and defamation to national security issues – has skyrocketed since the agency’s creation, from roughly 10,000 blocked or deleted websites and Internet postings in 2008 to more than 85,000 in 2013. Much of this activity has been conducted in accordance with the country’s Network Act, which broadly defines “illegal online content” and criminalizes the online circulation of “unlawful information.”  
In addition to disturbing trends regarding criminal defamation and Internet regulation (some might say censorship), indictments under the country’s controversial National Security Law have begun to inch upward, from 32 in 2008 to 103 last year [ko]. A rise in Cold War-era rhetoric has revived national security as a salient issue in Korean politics and forced critics on the left to be more careful about what they say lest they be branded “pro-North Korea sympathizers‘. 
In 2012, Amnesty International issued a scathing report about the National Security Law, correctly pointing out that the vague and arbitrary nature of the use of Article 7 produces a chilling effect on those who question government policy. This clause forbids praising the North Korean leadership, joining an “anti-government” organization, engaging in anti-state activities, or possessing or distributing North Korean media or literature. The fact that many of these critics are now being charged under defamation statutes rather than National Security Law violations is small consolation.
So far, many of the president's critics have been wary of her position on these issues, and she has done little to assuage these concerns. As 2013 drew to a close, the country was wracked by a series of strikes, mainly over fears that the government was planning to privatize a new rail line. Alluding to the causes of the strike, the president blamed social media for spreading “wild rumors”and stated that the government had to act “quickly and aggressively against groups who distort the situation”. The fact that this statement was made a day after the government’s official broadcast regulation arm targeted several media outlets – including the online sites Gobal and Newstapa – for producing reports which the agency termed “not real news” raised fears that the government may be preparing to step up its efforts to regulate both Internet content and broadcast media.
It remains to be seen how aggressive the president will be in targeting critics of her administration. In that sense, the KFC host, who has already drawn Park’s ire once earlier in her term, may now be playing the role of another type of bird: the canary in the coal mine.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ex-gov't officials charged with spreading false info about 2012 presidential election

SEOUL, April 3 (Yonhap) -- Two former government officials, including a former employee of the national election watchdog, were indicted Thursday on charges of spreading false information that the 2012 presidential election was rigged, prosecutors said.
In a publication, the suspects allegedly claimed that the National Election Commission (NEC) had systemically rigged the presidential election by deliberately concealing a malfunction in the electronic ballot machines and that as a result a "fake president" was elected, prosecutors said.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office probing the case alleged that the two, including former NEC employee Han Young-soo, defamed other NEC employees by spreading such fabricated facts.
"The nature of suspects' crime is very corrupt, as they maliciously distorted the work of NEC employees and misled the facts," said a prosecutors probing the case.
The 296-page publication, issued right after the Dec. 19 vote, sold nearly 10,000 copies in bookstores and another 2,500 copies were distributed, prosecutors said.
"There is a high possibility that the publication may bring about social chaos, as it even makes a reference to toppling the current administration," the prosecutor said.
The prosecution office said it has also charged a 32-year-old civilian, surnamed Choi, for allegedly acting in a disorderly manner at a court hearing of the two suspects.
President Park Geun-hye, the then ruling party candidate, eventually won the election against opposition candidate Moon Jae-in by a margin of 1 million votes.
<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Candidate nomination, spy agency scandal swamp Assembly session

The parliamentary interpellation session kicked off Thursday with the ruling and opposition parties clashing over key issues in the June 4 local elections. 

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy honed in on the candidate nomination system for local elections, and again urged President Park Geun-hye to follow through on the issue. Although Park had pledged to abolish the system as part of her political reform measures, the ruling party has since moved in the opposite direction, saying that abolishing candidate nominations may be unconstitutional. 

“Who decided to backtrack on abolishing the nomination system?” the NPAD’s Rep. You Sung-yop said, grilling Prime Minister Chung Hong-won on the issue. You was referring to the ruling party’s decision to forgo candidate nominations in the April by-elections but to reintroduce them for the local elections. 

“The president, who is a symbol of principles and trust, should request that the Saenuri Party uphold the pledge, and if the party refuses she should leave the party.” 

You went on to press Chung, asking whether he would advise the president to request that the system be abolished or else leave the ruling party. 

Rep. Song Ho-chang, one of NPAD co-chairman Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo’s closest associates, backed up his party’s demands by pointing out the negative aspects of the system and referring to it as “modern day slavery.” 

Under the candidate nomination system, a political party’s leaders exert nearly absolute influence on the selection process.

Citing current and past examples of bribery and figures close to the president interfering in the candidate selection process, Song said that parliamentarians’ power over the nominations was the fundamental cause of candidacy-related corruption. 

Along with the candidate nomination system, developments surrounding Yoo Woo-seong proved a key issue in Thursday’s session. 

The NPAD pressed its demands for a thorough investigation, the scope of which would include National Intelligence Service chief Nam Jae-joon. 

Rep. Park Beom-kye of the main opposition raised doubts about the results of the prosecution’s investigation, saying that the highest level of the spy agency should be probed. Yoo is a former Seoul City official of North Korean-Chinese decent accused of spying for Pyongyang. In appealing a lower court’s acquittal of Yoo, the prosecution used forged Chinese government documents provided by the NIS.

Ruling party lawmakers, in contrast, focused on the charges faced by Yoo.

“The primary issue is determining whether Yoo is a spy, and the investigation into evidence forgery comes next,” Saenuri Party’s Rep. Kim Do-eup said. 

Kim also claimed that a large number of ethnic Chinese living in North Korea operate as middlemen in transferring money into the North and gathering information for Pyongyang’s authorities. 

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)

Ex-officials charged with spreading false information about election

Two former government officials, including a former employee of the national election watchdog, were indicted Thursday on charges of spreading false information that the 2012 presidential election was rigged, prosecutors said. 

In a publication, the suspects allegedly claimed that the National Election Commission had systemically rigged the presidential election by deliberately concealing a malfunction in the electronic ballot machines and that as a result a “fake president” was elected, prosecutors said.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office probing the case alleged that the two, including former NEC employee Han Young-soo, defamed other NEC employees by spreading such fabricated facts. (Yonhap)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spy Games: Did South Korea's Intelligence Forge Information?

Spy Games: Did South Korea's Intelligence Forge Information?

(LinkAsia: 3/14/14) Already under fire for dirty tricks during the 2012 presidential election, South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, is now accused of forging evidence in a spy case. South Korean broadcaster MBC reports on the new NIS revelations after one of their alleged collaborators went public. And in Pakistan, social media users are complaining that a drought in Sindh Province has become a political football. While more than 900,000 have been affected, with dozens of children dying from starvation, some say their lawmakers are either using the opportunity to criticize rival parties, or using it to boost their profiles.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

NIS helper faces arrest for evidence fabrication

Prosecutors on Friday sought an arrest warrant for a Chinese national on charges of forging Chinese immigration records to help Seoul’s main spy agency frame a North Korean defector for espionage, prosecution officials said. 

The 61-year-old ethnic Korean with Chinese nationality, only identified as his surname Kim, is under suspicion of forging immigration records purporting to be the defector’s and handing them over to the National Intelligence Service, they said.

After putting Kim under an emergency arrest from a Seoul hospital where he was recovering from a suicide attempt last week, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul probing the case said it has asked a court to issue the warrant to further question him. 

The Seoul Central District Court will hold a hearing Saturday to review the prosecution’s request and determine whether to issue an arrest warrant for Kim, court officials said. 

The high-profile case involving Yoo Woo-seong, a 34-year-old defector who worked for the Seoul city government, began when prosecutors charged him with carrying out espionage activities for Pyongyang’s spy agency. 

After a local district court acquitted Yoo of espionage charges in August 2013, allegations have risen that the NIS obtained or produced the fake immigration records and handed them over to the prosecution. 

During previous rounds of questioning, Kim told investigators that he fabricated at least one of three immigration records that the NIS was aware of the forgery, prosecutors said. 

Meanwhile, an NIS agent was called in by prosecutors Friday to face questioning over suspicions that he received the alleged forged immigration records from Kim, sources at the prosecution office said. 

The prosecution office summoned the midranking agent, only identified as his surname Kim, as a suspect in the case, the sources said.

The latest development is dealing another blow to the NIS, which is still reeling from allegations that it attempted to sway public opinion ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

The country’s main opposition party is urging President Park Geun-hye to reprimand the NIS chief, saying that the agency deceived the public with the alleged false evidence.

Civic groups also demanded Park to revamp the NIS as the public lost credibility in the intelligence agents for allegedly fixing key evidence in a court case. (Yonhap)

Opposition coalition initiates official groundwork for new party

The main opposition Democratic Party and maverick lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo on Sunday began formal groundwork for a new coalition party to be launched later this month to challenge the ruling camp in the upcoming local elections and ultimately in the next presidential race.

Some 330 members each from the DP and Ahn's party-in-the-making "New Political Vision Party" convened for the first official meeting to discuss guidelines for the party's launch scheduled for March 26.

DP leader Kim Han-gil and entrepreneur-turned-politician Ahn were elected co-chairmen of a preparatory committee that serves as the control tower in launching the fledgling new party that was announced just two weeks ago.

The new party's name in Korean roughly translates as "New Political Vision Democratic Party." Ocean blue was adopted as its official color, staying with the bluish hues used by both sides.

"The new party name literally means mutual respect and equal coalition by the two sides. The name also contains public calls for 'new politics,' and the DP's history and tradition," spokesmen of the preparatory committee said.

The name was selected from suggestions received through a public campaign and approved by the two sides, the spokesmen said.

The two sides agreed to form a new party on March 2, a surprise move that upended the political landscape ahead of nationwide local elections on June 4, seen as a confidence vote on the incumbent Park Geun-hye administration that marked its one-year anniversary late last month. (Yonhap)