The Korea Herald

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US report flags concern on S. Korea's freedom of expression

By Lee Jung-youn

Published : March 21, 2023 - 15:05

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The United States Department of State expressed concern about the issue of restricted freedom of expression in South Korea through a report on human rights practices released on Monday.

The report also highlighted other human rights problems in South Korea, including government corruption; the lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence; and laws criminalizing consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex in the military.

According to the 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, an annual report on human rights published by the US government, South Korea is a constitutional democracy governed by a president and a unicameral legislature. But the report said the Korean government occasionally violates the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the South Korean Constitution.

“The government’s interpretation and implementation of the National Security Law and other laws and provisions of the constitution limited freedom of speech and expression, and restricted access to the internet,” the report said, citing the example of conflict between the Yoon Suk Yeol government and broadcaster MBC last September. President Yoon’s trip to New York at the time was marred by controversy after MBC released footage of him using a swear word soon after meeting US President Joe Biden.

"President Yoon Suk Yeol stated that broadcaster MBC could put the country’s security at risk by damaging its relations with key foreign partners after the broadcaster released a tape of what it reported as President Yoon criticizing a foreign legislature," the report said.

The report further noted the presidential office's barring of MBC from boarding the presidential aircraft to cover an overseas trip, and eight domestic media workers’ organizations release of a joint statement that called the decision "a clear defiance of the Constitution that guarantees press freedom.”

The report also said that libel and slander laws are used to limit public debate and censor individuals' and media's freedom of expression.

"Nongovernmental organizations and human rights attorneys continued to note cases of politicians, government officials and celebrities using libel laws to deter survivors of workplace sexual harassment from coming forward or to retaliate against such survivors,” the report said.

The report pointed out that while the freedoms of assembly and demonstration were generally respected, there were some restrictions.

In the corruption section, the report criticized President Yoon’s decision to pardon Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong and Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin -- both chaebol chairmen who were convicted in relation to impeached former President Park Geun-hye’s bribery scandal -- on National Liberation Day last year.

The controversy surrounding the lucrative Daejang-dong land development plan involving the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea's leader Lee Jae-myung was also included in this year’s report. The section on corruption also included the case of former lawmaker Kwak Sang-do, who was indicted without detention in November last year on bribery charges in connection with receiving 5 billion won ($3.8 million) for his son's severance pay. Kwak's February acquittal was not mentioned in the report.