Court strikes down law on spreading false Web posts

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Court strikes down law on spreading false Web posts

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Park Dae-sung

The Constitutional Court yesterday ruled as unconstitutional a telecommunications law that had been used to punish the famous stock market seer “Minerva” for allegedly spreading false information online.

The case has been seen as an important test for freedom of expression. Park Dae-sung, who had made apparently accurate predictions about the stock market and the global economic crisis, was indicted in early 2009 after authorities accused him of spreading panic and harming the economy as a result.

He filed a petition with the Constitutional Court about the legality of the telecommunications law and was acquitted in an earlier ruling that is now being appealed by prosecutors.

The Constitutional Court struck down the clause in the telecommunications law that had imposed a prison term of up to five years and a 50 million won fine ($43,500) for those who were deemed to spread false information on the Internet and mobile phones that would harm the public interest.

In the 7-2 decision, the court said the clause was unconstitutional because it lacked a clear definition of “false” and “public interest” and imposed an excessively harsh punishment on violators.

“The electronic communications law is unclear in meaning,” the court said in the ruling.

Park, 32, was indicted after he posted a warning online that the country’s foreign reserves will be drained soon because of the government’s irresponsible foreign exchange rate policies amid the global economic crisis.

The ruling “establishes a precedent that an individual’s freedom of expression needs to be guaranteed without limit,” Park told Views and News, a local online newspaper, yesterday. “This ruling rewards me for the bloody [legal] fight over the past two years.”

A Constitutional Court official said the ruling will lead to the acquittal of others who have been indicted under the law. This could include 19 people who were recently indicated for text messages shortly after North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23 claiming that the government had declared war and the defense ministry was ordering the mobilization of military forces.

Civil liberties advocates said that the ruling could be a significant milestone in preserving the right to free expression. In March, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders put Korea on a list of serious violators of Internet freedom.

Park wrote around 280 posts on a local online Internet forum between March 2008 and January 2009. In some of those postings, he predicted the collapse of Lehman Brothers and a weakening of the Korean currency, both of which subsequently occurred and made him a favorite among retail investors for his observations. The prosecution argued his postings led to dollar hoarding.


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

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