U.S. Raps S.Korean Gov't for Press Intimidation

  • By Lee Min-seok

    April 14, 2022 13:25

    The U.S. State Department's latest human rights report raps the South Korean government for intimidation of the press and corruption but gives it a comparatively fairly clean bill of health on a global scale.

    The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices published Tuesday warned a planned defamation law ostensibly intended to combat "fake news" "may limit the expression of ideas."

    The State Department publishes the reports every year on 198 countries.

    Limitations on freedom of expression are South Korea's main problem apart from endemic corruption, according to the report. "The government and public figures used libel and slander laws, which broadly define and criminalize defamation, to restrict public discussion and harass, intimidate, or censor private and media expression," it said.

    It cites the indictment of a man in his 30s on charges of contempt for distributing flyers criticizing President Moon Jae-in, and former Seoul mayor Park Won-soon's family suing citizens for defamation after they posted comments on the Internet criticizing him for sexually harassing a staffer, a scandal that led to his suicide.

    But the most egregious example is the planned press law "that would allow victims of reporting found to be false or fabricated to seek punitive damages from media organizations and online intermediaries."

    Next was the government's ban on activists sending leaflets across the border into North Korea. "In 2020 the Ministry of Unification revoked the permits of two defector-led... NGOs that send leaflets across the border... citing national security concerns and several other grounds. Critics continued to view the revised law and related investigations as suppressing activists' and defectors' freedom of expression."

    The report also highlights unresolved cases of corruption among figures close to the government such as the 2015 development scandal in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province that came back to haunt ruling-party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung, and the recent conviction of fly-by-night ex-Justice Minister Cho Kuk's wife Chung Kyung-sim for doctoring their daughter's resume for university admission.

    Others include land speculation by officials of the state-run Land and Housing Corporation.

    The entry on North Korea, meanwhile, as usual focuses on arbitrary killings, disappearance, torture, and other cruel treatment or punishment, arbitrary arrest or detention, and denial of fair public trial.

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