10 July 2004

Suppression of Free Speech in South Korea

The Asia Times runs a Pyongyang Watch series by Aidan Foster-Carter, who on 18 May 2004 described a sad case of Double jeopardy for North Korean defectors, but also bemoaned broader tendencies toward the suppression of free speech in South Korea. And this was before the SK government began restricting Internet access.
In the new South Korea, thuggery pays. It is here that bullies, enemies of free speech, of toleration, of democracy are being nourished in the country's so-called progressive democratization. Not only are they challenging the values of free speech and toleration, but now they are attacking the victims who seek asylum from the tyrannical regime in North Korea....

You'd suppose that these refugees, many of whom have suffered terrible privation and persecution, would be welcomed with open arms in Seoul, wouldn't you? Don't the hearts of all good South Koreans go out to their oppressed, starving Northern brethren? Don't they embrace the few who make it to freedom? Don't they give them every help and encouragement, to bring closer the day when all Koreans can reunite in the freedom and prosperity that the South now takes for granted?

Well, no. Make that, hell no. And listen to this: on April 20, North Korean defectors opened an Internet radio station in Seoul. (Korean speakers can access it at www.freenk.net).... What person with an ounce of human decency could possibly not wish Free NK well?

Fact is, many South Koreans are not sympathetic - and some are downright nasty. From day one, Free NK has been hassled and harassed - to the point where, after less than a month on the air, it now may have to close down: the building's landlord can't cope with the pressure, so he's given Free NK notice to quit by the end of this month.

It's an astonishing and shameful tale.... [They] have been subjected to "continuous threatening phone calls" and e-mails.... Critics get physical, too. A guard at the building said "strange people" come to protest every day....

Even if the actual bullies are a minority, their violence - for that's what it is - has been nourished in a noxious new soil that is spreading in Seoul these days. I fear I was wrong about democratization in South Korea. At least some of those who fought against dictatorship weren't, and aren't, true democrats. What they hated was the generals' right-wing politics, not authoritarianism per se.

Such self-styled "progressives", who rule the roost in the new South Korea, seem to me merely to have turned the old values inside out, rather than made true progress. I sometimes think Koreans don't do shades of gray, but prefer gestalt conversions: a total switch of world view. They flip.

In the bad old days, woe betide you if you said anything good about North Korea in Seoul. Now it's a mirror image: If you say anything bad about Kim Jong-il, you're a traitor. Even if, like the defectors of Free NK, you've suffered grievously under the Dear Leader - and therefore know whereof you speak, unlike head-in-sand fellow-travellers living safely south of the border.

I find this mentality not only despicable, but baffling. What is wrong with these people? Why do they not only defend tyranny, but attack its victims? What's in their minds, let alone their hearts?
See also NKZone's post entitled Big Brother in South Korea.

UPDATE: Muninn offers a more nuanced take on Korean Media and the Political Pendulum.

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