Military book banning upheld

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Military book banning upheld

The Constitutional Court yesterday dismissed a 2008 appeal against the Ministry of National Defense for its rule labeling some books as ideologically impermissible and banning soldiers from keeping them in military barracks.

Among the books is an economics publication by a well-known mainstream Korean professor who is at the University of Cambridge.

The ruling may reignite an old controversy in South Korea over how much the public should tolerate criticism of the government - while holding in check the communist North - when it comes to freedom of thought.

The court said that the public benefit from national security is no less important than the private benefit, which is the right to know for individuals.

Seven law officers in the military filed a petition with the Constitutional Court in October 2008 against a clause of the military rule, saying the rule infringes on the basic right to know.

The 2nd Article of the 16th Clause of the military discipline rule stipulates that soldiers may not produce, copy, keep, transport or acquire subversive documents, books or any other means of expression, and to report immediately to the military authority when they acquire them.

Three months earlier, the ministry classified 23 books, including a book written by Chang Ha-joon, as “subversive books” and prevented soldiers from bringing the books into military bases.

Chang’s book “Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism,” published in 2008, warns against unregulated international trade, but according to some scholars, not in a way that denies the principle of free market economy itself.

North Korea, which is the South’s “main enemy,” promotes itself as a communist country.

The ministry defended itself, saying the designation of “subversive books” is in accordance with a customary interpretation of the military law considering the uniqueness of the military and does not constitute an infringement on basic rights.

The ministry discharged two of its seven law officers in March of last year for not resorting to a proposal through the command line in the military to solve the problem before the petition. The other military lawyers lost one month’s salary, were suspended for five days and were reprimanded or given a warning.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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