Sarcastic tweeter indicted for aiding the enemy

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Sarcastic tweeter indicted for aiding the enemy

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The prosecution of a 23-year-old Twitter user who reposted messages from a North Korean propaganda site has reignited a perennial controversy. Was he practicing his freedom of speech or was he serving the interest of the enemy?

Park Jung-geun, who runs a photo studio in Amsa-dong, eastern Seoul, was indicted Tuesday on charges of violating the National Security Law. According to the prosecution, Park, a member of the Socialist Party, retweeted messages posted on the Twitter account of the North’s official propaganda site, Uriminzokkiri.

It was the first time that the prosecution indicted a suspect for retweetting pro-North Korea messages.

Park is an active Twitter user, having posted tens of thousands of messages after creating his account three years ago. From December 2010 to late last year, Park retweeted 96 postings from the Uriminzokkiri account and posted 34 pro-North messages, the prosecution said.

All the messages retweeted from the North’s account praised Pyongyang, and Park’s own messages included arguments that were deemed in violation of the National Security Law.

“Dear eternal president [of the North], just order us and we will race to sweep the American imperialist enemies from this country,” Park wrote on Dec. 15, 2011. After the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, Park wrote, “This is why Seoul needs a nuclear attack.”

Park was arrested Jan. 11 for investigation, and prosecutors made the indictment with a pretrial detention of Park Tuesday. He was detained at the Suwon Detention Center and could face up to seven years of imprisonment.

Park and his lawyer argued the postings were meant to mock the North Korean regime. A member of the Socialist Party, Park said his party is critical of the North’s third-generation, dynastical power succession.

According to the prosecutors, it is rare for them to seek pretrial detention for a suspect charged with violating Article 7 of the National Security Law, which forbids the act of praising, inciting or propagating anti-state activities.

But the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office said it sought pretrial detention because Park continued to post and retweet allegedly anti-state messages even after the investigation began.

On Jan. 17, Park made public a letter addressed to President Lee Myung-bak saying, “My sexual desire was reduced after the law enforcement authorities’ raids and questioning.”

“It’s true that his postings were funny, but 80 of the 130 allegedly pro-North postings were made even after we began the probe,” a prosecution source said. “There was a concern that he would continue to do so. Taking into account his attitude and messages in the postings, he was well-aware that his actions benefit the enemy.”

A source at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office also said Twitter’s strong influence was taken into consideration. “Park was a famous Twitter user with 5,900 followers,” the source said. “There was an incident in which a middle school student retweeted one of his posts and also wrote a post to praise the North.”

Park and his lawyer said Park did not realize his actions were considered advantageous to the North. They said pretrial detention of Park was an excessive application of the law and violated his freedom of speech. They said they will prove Park’s innocence in court.

Amnesty International issued a statement Wednesday to demand the release of Park, calling the indictment “ludicrous.”

“This is not a national security case,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director of the human rights group. “It’s a sad case of the South Korean authorities’ complete failure to understand sarcasm.”


By Ser Myo-ja, Lee Dong-hyun [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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