Teachers jailed for possession of propagandaSouth Korea’s Supreme Court on Thursday sentenced four members of the country’s largest teachers’ union to jail for violating the controversial National Security Act due to their possession of reading materials from the North Korean regime.
The four plaintiffs, who are all teachers in Incheon and members of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU), were found guilty of possessing a variety of banned North Korean texts, including “History of Korea” and an abridged version of Kim Il Sung’s autobiography, “Reminiscences: With the Century,” and distributing such materials in an internal study group.
Both books are classified by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service as illegal materials that violate the National Security Act. Article 7 of that law stipulates punishment for “any person who manufactures, imports, reproduces, holds, carries, distributes, sells or acquires any documents, drawings or other expression materials” that endanger the security of the state and its “democratic fundamental order.”
The plaintiffs, who include a 60-year-old woman surnamed Park who formerly served in a leadership role in the KTU, were given a year of prison time and an additional two years of a suspended sentence by the Supreme Court, upholding the verdict given by an appellate court in January 2016.
Park and the other three plaintiffs were indicted in February 2013 for forming a group in 2008 called the New Age Education Movement, which prosecutors claimed was a subversive organization formed to undermine the South Korean government.
Prosecutors further argued the group, under the guise of being a KTU-sponsored entity, attempted to “inculcate young students whose values have not yet been formed with incorrect ideology promoting anti-American sentiment and the abolition of the National Security Act,” according to the writ issued for the plaintiffs.
In 2015, a district court ruled that the teachers had violated the National Security Act by possessing illegal texts, which contained content “unacceptable for a South Korean citizen” that “blindly praised” North Korea’s leaders and their policies and the North’s Juche ideology. The court, however, dismissed the claim that the organization they had formed constituted an illegal entity, citing a lack of evidence.
Thursday’s sentence also stipulated the plaintiffs be stripped of their status as teachers.
The KTU, which had supported the plaintiffs throughout their legal dispute, pointed out the courts’ convictions underpinned a systemic contradiction, since “on the internet, anyone can easily search and access North Korean videos and content.”
In a larger picture, the trial testifies to a long-running debate surrounding the National Security Act and the persistent dilemma faced by the South Korean government in finding a balance between democratic rights and national security.
Human rights groups in the country and abroad say the act, which has been enforced since 1948, clamps down on freedom of speech and has been invoked by various South Korean governments to silence dissent and justify censorship.
Advocates of the law, largely with conservative leanings, say it is necessary to prevent North Korean-sponsored saboteurs from overthrowing Seoul’s liberal democratic system.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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