December 05, 2023

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it

It has been reported that the South  Korean government has yet again arrested and charged a South Korean national for violating its National Security Law (NSL). The 54-year-old man, Mr. Cho, is accused of praising North Korea via his account on Twitter.  It is difficult to sympathize with Mr. Cho’s decision to support such a brutal dictatorship and one might even think that Mr. Cho acted with full knowledge of the risks involved, and must therefore assume responsibility for his actions. Last year, the leftist pastor Han Sang-ryeol, who made an unauthorized trip to North Korea in the summer 2010, was also arrested for violating the NSL.

The National Security Law—or anti-communist law—is as old as the Republic of Korea (ROK) and was enacted in 1948 with the blessing of the United States. Between the years 1948 and 1988, it was used as a political tool to arrest, punish and torture anyone suspected of political dissent and/or harboring left-wing tendencies. It was also used to crack down on democracy and human rights activists and effectively curtail freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of conscience. Nowadays, the law is mainly used to subordinate North Korea’s sympathizers.  With the advent of democracy in 1988 and the increasing opportunities for dialogue with North Korea, human rights activists started to ask for the abolishment of the law but they lacked the support of the South Korean population. The law has been amended seven times since its enactment and the older generations generally believe that the law contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula. Younger generations and university students, however, are usually in favor of the repeal of the law.