Does a South Korean Law Limit Speech or Protect the Nation?

    19 March, 2015

    The United States ambassador to South Korea continues to recover from a knife attack. Mark Lippert was released from a hospital in Seoul on March 10, five days after he was repeatedly stabbed in the capital.

    A South Korean supporter of North Korea cut Ambassador Lippert on the face and hand. Police arrested 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong immediately following the attack. He faces charges including attempted murder.

    But, officials say the attacker might have also violated a law designed to stop the spread of communism. Some rights groups oppose the law. They say it mostly limits freedom of speech without increasing public safety.

    Police searched Mr. Kim's home and office. They say they found documents supporting North Korea. South Korea's National Security Law bans such documents.

    Park Kun-young is a member of the group People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy. He opposes the law and is worried about how the government might use it.

    He says it is bad that the attack carried out by one violent man is bringing attention to other activists who do not share the South Korean government's thoughts on North Korea. He says the South Korean government might now use the National Security Law to try to punish its political opponents.

    Lawmakers approved the measure in the late 1940s to try to stop the spread of communist North Korea's influence. But rights activists say it restricts freedom of speech and gives the government power to send innocent people to jail.

    In 2012, 26-year-old photographer Park Jung-geun was found guilty of violating the law. Last year, a higher court cancelled the ruling and said the man was innocent. Mr. Park says he was charged because of a humorous comment he made about North Korea on the social networking website Twitter.

    He says he thinks the way North Koreans worship their leaders is funny. He says he only re-tweeted a message he found on a pro-North Korea website because he thought it was funny.

    Mr. Park says he is now more careful about what he communicates on social media.

    Many South Koreans support the National Security Law. They say the fight against North Korea is continuing.

    Suh Jung-kap is a member of the organization National Action Campaign in South Korea. He says the attack on the American ambassador proves that the government needs to take stronger action against South Koreans who support North Korea.

    He says North Korea is the world's worst dictatorship. He says it launched attacks in 2010 and killed 46 South Korean soldiers. He says he does not think issues like the economy and human rights are as important as that of uniting the nation.

    Critics of the law say they agree that North Korea is still a threat to South Korea. But they say the attack on the ambassador shows that the law does not keep people safe from attack.

    That is one reason why activist Park Kun-young says the law should be cancelled.

    He says security is important and the country needs laws to stop spies. But he says the National Security Law does not do that. He says it only stops people from expressing their opinions.

    I'm Jim Tedder.

    Jason Strother and Malte Kollenburg reported this story from Seoul. Christopher Jones-Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    solidarity n. a feeling of unity between people who have the same interests, goals, etc.

    participatory adj. providing the opportunity for people to be involved in deciding how something is done

    worry v. to think about problems or fears: to feel or show fear and concern because you think that something bad has happened or could happen

    innocent adj. not guilty of a crime or other wrong act

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