Freedom of speech is in South Korea’s constitution, but with a few strings attached.
A number of major news outlets around the world have recently picked up the story of Junggeun Park. Park works as a photographer in Seoul who may face seven years in jail for retweeting posts from North Korea’s official twitter feed. Under the law, any speech that aids or supports the actions of North Korea can be considered abetting the enemy.
Park says that he found the Twitter posts funny, and that he was reposting them for this reason. He has also produced parody photos of himself alongside North Korean propaganda, but the government is not laughing.
As a nation still currently at war, freedom is perceived differently here. Wars can seemingly justify strange measures–take the United States and their strategically named “Patriot Act” as an example. As I Canadian, I find the policies of both nations alarming and ripe for abuse of power. As I was researching this story, I came across this screen blocking North Korea’s Twitter feed:
The above image is a police warning that comes up a lot on my computer letting me know that the police have blocked access to the website I’m trying to reach. This could be for any number of reasons. North Korea, certain varieties of pornography, “misleading” information; anything the government decides I should not be able to access. It’s this system of censorship that puts South Korea on the Reporters Without Borders’ list of countries under surveillance for violating internet freedoms. Notably, North Korea is listed under “Enemies of the Internet”.
As an outsider, I feel conflicted about making judgements about how a nation should protect its security and safety. Make no mistake–the North still wants to destroy the South, and certain precautions need to be made. But I’m just not sure how this translates into a photographer with a great sense of humor being tossed in a prison cell.