Two internationally based North Korea websites have been blocked by South Korea’s Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), it was revealed on Friday.
North Korea Tech – a California-based blog which reports on developments related to DPRK information technology – and KCNA Watch 3.0 – a German-hosted North Korea media search, aggregation and data extraction tool – were both fully blocked in South Korea as of last Friday afternoon.
While the KCSC warning visible on both sites does not reveal the exact reason they are blocked, the North Korea-focus of both sites suggests it may be related to South Korea’s 1948 National Security Act legislation.
That law is designed to “to restrict anti-state acts that endanger national security” and is often used to block South Korean nationals from accessing official North Korean media output at the point of source.
KCNA Watch, a service originally conceived by the New Zealand-based developer Frank Feinstein, was previously blocked in 2013, almost certainly because it allowed South Koreans to read North Korean media output.
But the block of North Korea Tech, which is managed by British national Martyn Williams, is more difficult to understand, it being primarily a source of independent journalism related to North Korea’s information technology sector.
Not only is Williams a regular guest speaker for international media on topics related to North Korea, but his expertise has also seen him being invited to present to U.S. government audiences in Washington, D.C. on several occasions.
As such, it’s difficult to see how his website could require censorship under South Korean law, though it’s possible the block could be unrelated to the National Security Act. South Korea also blocks pornography and websites it considers infected with viruses.
“Obviously the censorship of North Korea Tech is regrettable,” said Williams when contacted by NK News about the development.
“It’s a sign of weakness in any government when they resort to filtering what their citizens can read, watch and listen to,” he said. “With South Korea it’s doubly troubling because the country has criticized North Korea for doing just this.”
Deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia division Phil Robertson, who regularly critiques Pyongyang for its lack of transparency, described the block of North Korea Tech as “harmful to rights and counter-productive.”
“Revealing more about what is happening behind the scenes in North Korea helps expose Pyongyang’s long record of rights crimes, but by limiting what websites South Koreans can see, President Park and her government are showing that they don’t care much about human rights either,” said Robertson.
“It’s time that President Park demonstrated that a rights respecting democracy trusts its citizens to make decisions about what information they access and what opinions they voice, and acted to lift online censorship and cease using the draconian National Security Act to punish people with differing views.”
However, not all agree.
In late 2013, when KCNA Watch was first blocked, North Korea human rights activist Eunkyoung Kwon said that websites linking to North Korean media pose risks for Seoul.
“We should not forget that North and South Korea are still in armistice status,” she said at the time. “North Korea’s propaganda activities towards South Korea and the world are still working, but South Korea has not got many means to cope with it.”
An official for the KCSC, who declined to be named, told NK News on Monday that blocks related to violations of the National Security Act are not decided by the Commission, which only follows orders on official memorandum provided to them by other government agencies.
Freedom House, which produces annual reports on the freedom of the press, said in 2015 that South Korea’s information ecosystem has worsened under President Park Geun-hye due to “increased intimidation of political opponents.”
For its part, North Korea bans the vast majority of its own citizens from accessing the internet and in 2011 was described as the “most repressive media environment in the world” by Freedom House.
Main picture: NK News
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