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Police probing anti-Roh Web site

Apparent death threat raises free expression issues

Apr 19,2005
Seoul police have begun an investigation of a right-wing Internet site that posted what the Blue House views as a death threat against President Roh Moo-hyun.
On Saturday, an image was posted on the site of President Roh in the crosshairs of a rifle scope, with a word balloon quoting him as saying that he doesn’t want the Kim Jong-il regime to collapse. Below that image is one of a sharpshooter with a rifle, and the message, “If you support the enemy of the nation once again, then I will put a bullet in your head.”
An official with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said yesterday that they had begun an investigation at the Blue House’s request. The official said police would question the person who posted the images before deciding what actions should be taken.
Experts in legal and media circles have been divided over whether the posting oversteps the boundaries of permissible political expression.
Lee Jin-woo of Lawyers for a Democratic Society said that while the posting was malicious, it was essentially an expression of an opinion about a public figure. He said imposing a criminal penalty for it would violate the constitutionally protected freedom of expression of the person who posted it.
But Kim Kyung-ho, a professor of communications at Cheju National University, argued that any death threat against an incumbent president should be punished.
“I felt the photo went overboard,” said Mr. Kim. “I don’t understand what kind of message the site wanted to deliver.”
Mr. Kim said he hoped the case would result in clearly drawn boundaries to acceptable political messages.
Though a number of online attacks and parodies of political figures have provoked outrage in recent years, no criminal charges have ever resulted. The law allows prosecution for defamation of character, but only when it can be established that a charge has been fabricated for the purpose of insulting someone.


by Baek Il-hyun


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