Aiding the ‘enemy’ gets complicatedOn the day North Korea shelled the island of Yeonpyeong, a number of postings appeared on an Internet forum praising the deadly attack.
“The great work of a great party has been done,” said one posting, referring to the North Korean Workers’ Party. “This is the work of leader Kim Jong-un,” another posting read. “We all should be on our guard and be wise to be prepared at all times ... I am always confident because I have the great North and our great leader.”
Some South Korean netizens reported the forum, and its 6,500 members, to the police and the National Intelligence Service. A few days later, Seoul police arrested five members of the forum on charges of breaking the National Security Law. One member identified as Kim, 45, praised Kim Jong-il and his son Kim Jong-un while being questioned by police, declaring the two as “mighty men.”
Yesterday, four of the five people arrested were given suspended jail sentences by a court, further igniting the debate over national security and free speech, especially regarding North Korea.
The online forum, which first appeared in 2002, had been scrutinized by police even before the Yeonpyeong attack for its praise of North Korea, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un. After its initial founding, the forum was forced to close down but reappeared on a different portal site in 2007.
The light punishment from the court, analysts said, reflected the increased number of liberal judges appointed during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. In addition, analysts pointed to the shift in public opinion on what people consider harmful to state security.
“There was a time when you were found guilty for stating you wanted U.S. troops to pull out of South Korea,” said Lee Young-man, who specializes in public security at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. “Now the time has come when prosecutors have to prove that a person intends to harm the security of South Korea, or ‘enable the enemy,’ which is North Korea. They cannot be ruled guilty just for certain actions, like in the past.”
“As the atmosphere inside and outside the Korean Peninsula has shifted, so have the standards on the National Security Law,” said Kim Sang-kyum, a constitutional law professor at Dongguk University in Seoul. “There have been an increased number of different rulings on whether a person’s actions are really beneficial to the enemy than in the past.”
This shift in dynamics can also be seen in court rulings. In 1992, a union group that belonged to what is now Hyundai Rotem was found guilty of breaking the National Security Law for producing anti-South Korean materials and aiding the North.
But last July, in a different case, a group founded in 2000 for the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula was accused of aiding the enemy, and several judges of the Supreme Court requested strict proof of a group’s intention to induce harm.
By Christine Kim [firstname.lastname@example.org]