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Blurring line between hate, free speech

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Published : 2010-03-30 12:56
Updated : 2010-03-30 12:56

Over the past few years, a group calling itself Anti-English Spectrum has stirred up expats living in Korea, leading many to label the group as perpetrators of hate speech and racist activities due to their Naver cafe content and offline stalking activities.
Anti-English Spectrum is the product of a backlash in 2005 in response to a "sexy costume party" put on by a few native English teachers. On a site with the heading "English Spectrum," parties were advertised and pictures were posted. The male founder of Anti-English Spectrum felt that Korean women at the party were being degraded and decided to take action. Part of their statement of purpose reads:
"Until the degradation of Korean women by English Spectrum stirred an uproar, we were just common citizens of the Republic of Korea. ... One day, we witnessed the English Spectrum`s arrogant and base statements degrading Korean women and we felt something beyond rage, a feeling of unendurable humiliation. And so, because of our burning consciences, our `active consciences,` that we just could not ignore, we are gathered here together."
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It continues saying that they are, "[w]aging a wearisome and very difficult fight against English Spectrum, a group that has debased the image of Korean women in such a dirty and humiliating way that is enough to have soiled the country`s national brand, and also against illegal, low-quality English instructors who prevent proper English education from happening in this land!" The statement concludes with, "This is the Citizens` Movement for the Expulsion of Illegal Foreign Language Teachers."
Since its inception, the group has increasingly pursued the deportation of "illegal and problem teachers." As for who should be deported exactly, it looks for fake degree holders, drug users and HIV/AIDS-infected individuals. If those don`t work, expats could be accused of "violating the Korean moral code."
Through its website, the group seems to be saying that crimes committed by native English teachers have reached socially dangerous levels.
But is native teacher crime in Korea even a problem?
National Assembly Representative Lee Gun-hyeon reported in September this year that there were 114 crimes committed by foreign English teachers in 2007 and 99 in 2008, translating into a foreign teacher crime rate of 0.64 and 0.5 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, according to the Korean Institute of Criminology, the Korean crime rate in 2007 was 3.5 percent. In other words, the native English teacher crime rate was more than five times lower than the Korean crime rate.
An issue many have with Anti-English Spectrum is its past use of racist language, such as referring to foreigners as "Black pigs," saying that foreigners engage in "sexual molestation," and that they "target children."
Another AES action that has gone further than your friendly neighborhood watch involves them engaging in types of vigilantism. The group`s administrator admits to stalking foreigners. "Whenever I have to prepare a policy report or embark on the pursuit of an illegal foreign lecturer, then I end up working until dawn because I throw myself into it, braving fire and water. Then because I have to be at work in the morning, I don`t get any sleep, and therefore am physically very tired." They have also stored information and photographs on their website of non-Koreans they have followed.
As for charges of racism, Anti-English Spectrum`s host Naver.com, said they have received no complaints. The PR department for Korea`s biggest portal stated that even though the cafe is rather large -- having 17,000 members -- prior to being contacted by The Korea Herald a representative said she was unaware of the group. When asked about the "black pig" comment, the representative stated that "in this case `black pig` is definitely a racist comment."
"It is hard to detect all offensive comments. What`s more important here is the measure we take against such actions ... If anyone reports to us about wrongdoings that are going on in this cafe, we will take measures and give sanctions to them."

Dubious statistics

Anti-English Spectrum also delved into the nation`s AIDS discussion by disseminating rumors on its website that "infected (HIV) foreigners are indiscriminately spreading the virus." The manager of AES then implied that the spread of the virus in Korea could be the result of a foreign organization operating here. "It is not yet known whether a foreign AIDS-infected peoples` organization is responsible for inciting these people, or whether it is the infected foreigners within Korea just working amongst themselves. The only truth known from the rumor is that these people are spreading AIDS in order to make their existence known."
A foreigner in Korea has never been brought up on such charges. A Korean taxi driver was, however, accused by the police on March 13 for knowingly spreading HIV/AIDS to dozens of women in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province.
Further involvement in the AIDS public opinion field was the group`s successful influencing of foreign visa regulations using false statistics. Bill (3356), which is now at the National Assembly, is designed to allow AIDS testing for any foreigners coming into Korea on working visas. The bill contains a statistic which originates from Anti-English Spectrum, and has been quoted by the group`s administrator in the media on numerous occasions. It states that in 2007 the Itaewon AIDS clinic performed 80 percent of its tests on foreign teachers and foreign white collar workers.
Korea AIDS/HIV Prevention & Support Center statistics for that year show that the 80 percent statistic is false. Furthermore, KHAP director Yu Sung-chal told Expat Living that the clinic "moved to Seongbuk-gu in 2006, so it makes no sense to say that the Itaewon clinic sent out these statistics."
When Assemblyman Lee Sang-jun, who is behind Bill (3356) was asked by the Herald about the false statistic, he stated that he got the stats from the Ministry of Justice, and that he does not remember who in the ministry he got them from. "I do go over statistics at times. But in this case, since they are not the vital issue here, but rather a reference, I didn`t check the facts."
The same dubious statistic can be traced back even further. A petition from AES sent to the Ministry of Justice in 2006 bears the same 80 percent figure. Around this time, Anti-English Spectrum assisted in an online article that alleged the percentage was English teachers, leaving out the mention of white collar workers. The picture included with the article is of a white man giving a blood sample to a nurse -- presumably an English teacher, since the article is about EFL teachers -- with the caption once again mentioning the Itaewon AIDS tests.
As it turns out, the photo was a fake. The picture is of President George W. Bush`s former U.S. Global AIDS coordinator being publicly tested for HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia in an effort to fight AIDS stigma. The same picture is on Wikipedia.
When reached for comment, the director of the AIDS Prevention Center in Daegu did not have nice things to say about Anti-English Spectrum. "I think they are highly nationalistic and they treat foreigners as our enemies ... I do believe in freedom of speech, however, what they are sending out is highly controversial and might send out the wrong perception," said Kim Ji-young.
Aside from propagating the use of false statistics and admitting to stalking foreigners, AES has made a name for itself with dozens of propagandistic posters. The main themes: Illegal teachers are drug takers, sex fiends, gamblers and are unqualified; some are pedophiles; they are the source of Korea`s HIV/AIDS problem.
The main issues for most expats: This kind of propaganda incites hatred for all foreigners, since it`s impossible to tell an illegal from a legal one.

Teachers speak up

On Nov. 13, the Association for Teachers of English in Korea issued a press release supporting the efforts of Andrea Vandom, a Ph.D. student in International Relations at the University of California, who has taken action against Anti-English Spectrum. In a letter dated Nov. 6, which was sent to Naver`s parent company NHN Corporation, Vandom outlines that AES violates both Korean law and also Naver Cafe`s operating principles.
"This group`s highly defamatory statements violate Article Ga-4 (Defamatory Posts) of Naver Cafe`s terms of service agreement and rise to the level of violation of the Korean Criminal Code."
She goes on to state, "Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination ... which the Republic of Korea has declared `has the same authority of domestic law.` Says that `(promoting) racial hatred and discrimination in any form,` such as with the use of `promotional posters,` is a prohibited act."
Referring to her letter, ATEK president Greg Dolezal stated, "The Anti-English Spectrum is attempting to sabotage multiculturalism in Korea with their xenophobic accusations that are aimed at foreign teachers who are innocent of the crimes the group describes.
"ATEK cannot accept such harmful material relating to foreign teachers ... Therefore we whole heartedly support these letters and urge the NHN Corporation to honor Naver`s content policies and remove the offensive material from the group`s page."
Towards the end of her letter, Vandom says that. "I have emphasized that Naver should protect its users` rights to speak freely in a robust and open environment where controversial ideas are expressed and even offensive language is used, but even free speech has its limits." She ends the letter with six example points "strongly suggesting" that Naver remove any material on AES` site that promotes "racism, xenophobia and the proliferation of hate speech."
Kyung Hee University international law professor Benjamin Wagner takes issue with the way AES has handled the sensitive issue of HIV/AIDS. "It is not free speech to try to stir a social panic by falsely claiming foreigners have AIDS and are conspiring to infect the Korean population. This is a criminal matter," said Wagner.
"Firstly, I`m appalled at their degradation of Korean women. Secondly, their willful refusal to abide by Korea`s laws and moral principles is shameful and has marked the group as the true outsiders. Their tactics and ideology are completely alien to Korean democratic society. To give just two examples: their attempt to create rumors of foreigners plotting to infect Koreans with AIDS is a propaganda ploy right out of the Pyongyang playbook; and their spying -- tracking peoples movements, following them home, secretly photographing them -- is reminiscent of past military dictatorships` human rights violations, which this country successfully fought to eradicate."
AES` cafe manager initially agreed to an interview but subsequently disallowed the use of his answers in print. Anti-English Spectrum, to its credit, has removed some of the most offensive content. There are still ongoing discussions on their cafe on the subject of stalking foreigners. (adamwalsh@heraldcorp.com)




By Adam Walsh

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