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Education Ministry’s anti-poster campaign sparks freedom of speech row

Education Ministry’s anti-poster campaign sparks freedom of speech row

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Published : 2013-12-22 20:20
Updated : 2013-12-22 20:20

The Ministry of Education has directed middle and high schools to stem the spread of student political posters, mostly critical of the government, raising concerns that children’s freedom of speech is being violated.

Daejabo, or hand-written posters dealing with various issues, have been appearing across the country after a Korea University student posted one titled “How are you?” on Dec. 10, dealing with controversial social issues including the railway strike and the debate over healthcare privatization.

Since then, posters of the same title have appeared at more than 60 universities, as well as at high schools. One was even penned by ruling Saenuri Party Rep. Kim Moo-sung.

In response to the growing trend, the Education Ministry on Wednesday sent out related guidelines to provincial education offices. Most of the provincial offices, with the exception of the Gyeonggi Province office, have in turn relayed the statement to schools in their regions.

In its guidelines, the Education Ministry raises concerns that the academic atmosphere may be damaged, saying that the posters contained one “particular (side’s) arguments or personal biases” regarding social issues.

The statement also included directions for schools to concentrate on enabling the students to focus on their studies.

Although the statement does not contain explicit orders to prevent students from putting up such posters, some say that banning such actions is the only viable way to comply with the Education Ministry’s guidelines.

On Dec. 18, a school in Gwangju prevented a student from displaying a similar poster, prompting criticism from education-related nongovernmental organizations in the region.

Although the ministry has defended the guidelines as a measure for maintaining “academic atmosphere” at schools, the controversy appears likely to grow.

A number of nongovernmental organizations concerned with students’ rights are said to be considering taking the issue to the National Human Rights Commission.

The Education Ministry’s action has also incited criticism online, where comments such as “the freedom of young students is being trampled on” and “it will only make it spread more” are appearing.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)

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