After the World War II, Korean peninsula occupied by the two superpowers. The United States occupied the South side of the country, and the USSR occupied the North side of the country. After the division between the South and the North is became certain, the Republic of Korea established the National Security Law in 1948. The main purpose of the National Security Law is to prevent any event that might against the government. Although, the National Security Law has been changed several times, it is still an obstacle for the some of the civil and political rights in the country.
The National Security Act was specifically used as a tool to justify the government’s actions against North Korean supporters. With the Law, anything that could be beneficial for the North side considered as an anti-state action and will be punished. At the beginning of the Republic of Korea, this law was used for the interests of the government, especially for the strengthen the government structure. After the Korean War, and increasing threats from the North side, the implementation of the law increased. On the other hand, the government’s abuse of the law also affected most of the innocent people. However, during the 80’s South Korea’s rising authoritarian regime turned its way to the consolidation of democracy.
With the movements toward to the consolidation of democracy, Constitution of the Republic of Korea has been changed for several times. Although the amendments reduce the implementation of the National Security Law, its repeal still cannot be achieved. The revisions of the law improved the civil and political rights of the citizens. However, anything that supports, defends or favors North Korean side and its government still prohibited. Therefore, freedom of expression in South Korea still has some limitations.
On the other hand, both republics’ presidents met in 2018, to reduce the tension and talk about the possible reunification (King, 2020). Regime differences among the both sides create criticisms about the reconciliation. Therefore, new nonviolent protests occurred in South Korea towards to the North side. One of the purposes of the protests is criticisms over the North Korean human right violations (Human Rights Watch, 2020). Human Rights activists in South Korea sent balloons that includes leaflets, flash drivers to the North side. Leaflets were carrying external information for the North Korea citizens. Leaflet protests created a new tension between both sides.
Although protests are considered under the freedom of expression rights, increasing tension between both sides pushed the government of South Korea to take some actions about the protests. At the beginning, South Korea government did not take any actions which could be against the rights of the citizens even though the warnings of the North side. However, with the continuation of the protests, North side took some actions, and created some threats against the citizens who lives in border areas.
Due to the increasing tension and the North side’s aggressive threats, South Korea government banned the leaflet balloons. Also, Moon’s government considers more limitations for the freedom of expression rights. Government’s justification of these new considerations is protect the security of the citizens who live in border areas (Duk-Kun, 2020). Many questions have been raised after the new ban and possible restrictions on freedom of expression. On the one hand, the government’s new strategies are criticized internationally and domestically.
Government’s new ban for the leaflet is against the right of the freedom of expression. Furthermore, government imposed another requirements to the new ban, such as pecuniary punishment or jail time (King, 2020). These requirements were only applicable under the National Security Law when citizens behave against the law. National Security Law was the last obstacle for the freedom of expression. However, with the new restrictions government’s control over expressions of the citizens increased.
President Moon’s efforts for the normalizing the relations with the North side resulted with giving up on the rights of the citizens. In the past, anything that favors the North side was restricted, but it seems this law is turning against itself. The change in government attitudes creates another criticism that the North side may have more power over the terms of compromise, which might be a huge risk for the democracy of the country
1. Byun Duk-kun, FM says freedom of expression can be limited over leafleting ban, (YonHap News Agency, 2021).
2. Diane B. Kraft, South Korea’s National Security Law: A tool of Oppression in an Insecure World, (Wisconsin International Law Journal, 2006).
3. Human Rights Watch, South Korea: Stop Intimidating North Korean Human Rights Groups, (Human Rights Watch, 2020).
4. Robert R. King, South Korea Bans Balloons Carrying Leaflets to the North. Foreign Policy Problems Will Follow, (Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2020).
5. Tae-jun Kang, South Korean Government and North Korean Defectors Clash over Leaflets, (The Diplomat, 2020).
6. Tae-jun Kang, Is South Korea Ready to Say Goodbye to Its National Security Law, (The Diplomat, 2018).
Well done! I had no idea about the laws banning speech that support North Korea. I suppose I am not suprised, the US had similar laws for supporting the USSR during the peak of the Cold War. That war never even went hot, North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war.
President Moon’s actions do not surprise me much at all, and I understand why he would. It is a limit on the expression of free speech, however this isnt an internal protest within the borders of South Korea. The protestors in this case were causing an international incident across borders, actively harming relations with a nation that has been proven to be extremely hostile. It is very risky, the USA would likely not allow such a protest happening with Canada as our Northern neighbour, could you imagine if North Korea was our neighbour?
For this reason I will agree that it is a lack of freedom of speech, however I think President Moon’s reaction was justified.