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U.N. report says S. Korea restricts freedom of speech

The government is reportedly looking over a draft of a U.N. report stating that freedom of expression in South Korea has been restricted and that the government should make efforts to guarantee it once again. 

The administration, unlike in previous moves, is expected to make no official response in the near future. 
United Nations headquarters(AP/Frank Franklin II)
United Nations headquarters(AP/Frank Franklin II)

According to the Yonhap news agency, Frank La Rue, U.N. special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, wrote this in his report to the U.N. scheduled to be released in June. In it, he said the South Korean government has been increasingly sensitive about guaranteeing one of the most basic rights after candlelit vigils took place in 2008 against the administration’s resumption of U.S. beef imports. 

“The special rapporteur notes his concern that since the candlelight demonstrations of 2008, there have been increased restrictions on individuals’ rights to freedom of opinion and expression, primarily due to an increasing number of prosecutions, based on levy that are often not in conformity with international standards, of individuals who express views who are not in agreement with the position of the government,” he said in his 29-page report, “Mission to the Republic of Korea.”

La Rue has reportedly expressed his concerns over eight sectors, including restrictions to freedom of expression online and assembly, as well as civil servants’ rights to opine. Often-threatened defamation suits and restriction of rights citing national security also drew his attention.

He pointed to the National Intelligence Service’s filing of a defamation suit against civic activist Park Won-soon for revealing the organization’s illegal prying into the lives of citizens, and the government’s suit against online commentator “Minerva” for his criticisms of its economic policies. The authorities lost both suits. 

La Rue suggested that the government step up its efforts to secure citizens’ basic rights to international standards. “The special rapporteur makes recommendations on each of the main issues addressed to fully guarantee the right of all individuals to express diverse opinions, both in law and in practice which would further consolidate democratic foundations of the Republic of Korea,” he wrote. 

The report is based on La Rue’s observation of 16 administrative departments last May. He also met people claiming to be victims of suppression. 

Once its contents are confirmed, the report will be translated into the official languages of the U.N. and made public. The U.N. stated the visit was the first in 15 years by a U.N. envoy mandated to monitor the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, one of the nation’s largest civic groups, sent a statement to the U.N. regarding the report saying that the administration should cease monitoring and prosecuting individuals for comments based on personal opinions. It also suggested abolishing several laws that hinder the right of freedom of expression, the group said. 

“The government will have to listen to the U.N.’s advice. But I am worried whether the Lee Myung-bak administration is ready to accept criticisms,” said Lee Ji-eun, staff worker at the group, said.

An official at the Foreign Ministry said that the ministry is planning to reply to the draft within the month but has no plans to make it official at this point. 

In 2008, the National Police Agency openly denounced Amnesty International’s report that protesters against the government were suppressed with excessive force by police. The police said the international human rights watchdog lacked an understanding of Korean society. 

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)



<관련기사>

한국 개인 의사 표현의 자유..."2008년 촛불시위 이후 위축"

라뤼 유엔 보고관 보고서 

한국에서 개인의 의사 표현 자유 등 인권 상황이 2008년 촛불시위 이후 사실상 위축됐다는 취지의 보고서가 올해 유엔에 제출될 예정이어서 주목된다. 

16일 정부와 시민단체 등에 따르면 프랭크 라뤼<사진> 유엔 ‘의사표현의 자유’ 보고관은 ‘모든 인권과 발전권을 포함한 시민ㆍ정치ㆍ경제ㆍ문화적 권리의 증진과 보호’라는 제목의 대한민국 실태조사 보고서 초안을 이달 초 우리 정부에 전달했으며, 법무부와 문화체육관광부ㆍ방송통신위원회ㆍ경찰청 등 10여개 정부기관이 사실관계를 검토 중이다.

보고서는 ‘인터넷 강국’인 우리나라에서 정부기관의 자의적이고 과도한 규제로 온라인에서 표현의 자유가 침해받을 소지가 있다고 밝혔다. 

라뤼 보고관은 “중상이나 모욕으로 간주하면 평화적 의견 표현 또는 정보 배포도 범죄로 간주돼 형사처벌을 받을 수 있는 점이 우려된다”고 밝혔다. 

또 정보통신망법상 유통이 금지된 정보에 대해 방송통신위원회가 방송통신심의위원회의 심의를 거쳐 취급 거부ㆍ정지를 명할 수 있다는 점에 우려를 표시하며 방송통신심의위 폐지를 권고했다.

보고서에는 위축된 표현의 자유와 관련, 명예훼손 행위를 형사처벌 대상으로 삼고 있는 현행 형법 규정을 폐지하고 민사상 손해배상액에 한계를 둬야 한다는 권고도 담겨 있다. (헤럴드경제)
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