Politician proposes review of National Security Law used to restrict freedom of expression


Call for national security law to be re-examined

In early October 2018, the leader of South Korea's ruling party, Lee Hae-chan, suggested the country's security law should be "re-examined", as high-level peace talks took place between the country and North Korea.

Successive governments have relied on tough security laws to restrict freedom of expression, in particular when it comes to debate about North Korea. The most nefarious of these is the National Security Law (NSL) a law dating back to the aftermath of World War II. The vague wording of the NSL leaves it open to misuse by police and other authorities. Governments have used it to target dissidents and opponents for decades.

According to Amnesty International, in 2015, South Korea broadened the application of the NSL to new categories and additional groups of individuals, such as politicians and even serving parliamentarians, and foreign nationals.

In one case in 2017, police arrested long-time activist Lee Jin-young in Seoul, and placed him in solitary confinement. Lee had already been jailed in the 1980s for promoting democracy. This time his alleged crime was running Labor Books, an online library of information on North Korea. Lee was charged for violating Article 7 of the National Security Law (NSL) for distributing materials that allegedly benefited “anti-government organisations". He could have faced years in prison but a court eventually quashed the charges against him.

Peaceful assembly

Protests calling for accountability for breach of dam in Laos

In September 2018, South Korean civil society groups organised a protest outside the headquarters of SK Engineering & Construction company in Seoul to call on the government and the company to take responsibility for the deadly breach of a dam in Laos which left at least 40 people dead and displaced thousands of others.

The dam collapsed on 23rd July 2018 caused devastating floods that swept through southern Laos, displacing about 7,000 people, many of whom are currently living in five temporary camps after losing their homes and possessions.

The dam was part of a larger hydropower project being built by a joint venture comprising South Korea’s SK Engineering and Construction — the project’s main partner — Korean Western Power Company Ltd., Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Public Company Ltd. of Thailand, and Lao Holding State Enterprise, a state corporation primarily involved with the financing of the energy industry. The project, part of the South Korean government’s official development assistance (ODA) to Laos, was to be fully operational by February 2019.

In mid-October 2018, Kim Kyung-hyup, a lawmaker of the Minjoo Party, said that the collapse of dam was caused by the construction company’s attempt “to seek excessive profits through design changes”. He said that these findings were based on a comprehensive analysis of SK Engineering and Construction's documents.

Anti-spycam protests continue, focusing on the failure of judiciary

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, tens of thousands of women have been organising street protests against biased police investigations into the widespread use of spycam pornography in South Korea, a violation of South Korea's privacy laws. The spy cameras are often used to capture women and sometimes men undressing, going to the toilet, or in changing rooms which are then posted online at pornographic sites. Between 2012 and 2017, out of the nearly 30,000 male suspects investigated by police, less than 3 percent were arrested for investigation.

In June 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for more comprehensive action to tackle spy-cam crimes, calling for “stern” punishments for perpetrators and “special protection for victims". In September 2018, the Seoul city government announced plans to root out hidden cameras by ramping up police staffing and ensuring daily inspections of public restrooms.

On 8th October 2018, around 60,000 women, with red umbrellas and raincoats, gathered near Hyehwa Station in Seoul for their fifth protest against spycam porn. Unlike the previous four protests, the latest gathering focused on criticising the judiciary. The protesters claimed that sex crimes keep happening because “legislative and judicial authorities are complacent about sexual misconduct”. They demanded that lawmakers enact legislation that hand down heavier punishments to sexual predators. During the protest, the activists targeted the legislative and judiciary authorities with text messages calling for "harsher punishment against sex offenders".