South Koreans Users of Propaganda Website Risk Punishment

Users could be in violation of archaic South Korean anti-communist law
April 5th, 2013

SEOUL – Records released by hackers show that over 2000 South Koreans are subscribed to North Korean propaganda website Uriminzokkiri, and are now thought to be at risk of punishment under South Korea’s archaic National Security Act if found guilty of engaging in subversive “anti-South Korean” activities.

The hacker group Anonymous Korea made the details available in three parts (1, 2, 3), causing South Korean news agency Yonhap to speculate whether or not South Koreans found subscribing to the North Korean propaganda website were in infringement of the law.

The website, Uriminzokkiri (meaning “our [Korean] people, together”), is based in China, and produces anti-South Korean and anti-U.S. propaganda for a predominantly South Korean audience. It is not the same as the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s official state media mouthpiece.

“Prosecutors said they will have to look into whether the email account owners conducted any anti-state activities before deciding on any legal steps,” Yonhap reported.

The McCarthyist law was initially introduced in the 1940s to render communism and anti-government activity illegal, and was used to sentence South Korean communists to death in the 1970s. Although those infringing the law no longer receive similarly harsh punishment, cases of South Koreans falling foul of the act are still commonplace, with the most recent high-profile case involving the indictment of a baby photographer who jokingly retweeted tweets from North Korea’s official twitter account.

Critics worry that users subscribed to the site in media, academic or research circles could be unfairly punished for having their details revealed in the list. Yonhap news, and other South Korean media organizations, are able to bypass South Korea’s national firewall. Users trying to access North Korean or pornographic websites are greeted with the below government warning:

Netizens on the South Korean conservative online community Ilbe have already started to identify and investigate South Koreans on the list. The website has a history of tracking down and identifying alleged ‘North Korean sympathizers’, or jongpuk. South Korean intelligence agencies award anti-communist informants with a much-sought after metal watch for reporting jongpuk.

A screenshot of Anonymous data organized in XML format by South Korean netizens. The highlighted address belongs to a South Korean user (Ilbe)

A screenshot taken by a South Korean netizen after reporting the above South Korean email address to the National Intelligence Service (NIS). The netizen, perhaps jokingly, reported the user for declaring fondness for progressive podcast Naggomsu.




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About the Author

James Pearson

James Pearson (@pearswick) was the NK News Seoul Correspondent.