Five charged with online defamation

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Five charged with online defamation

Five Internet bloggers and columnists, including a university professor, were booked without detention yesterday on charges of defaming high-ranking government officials by posting and spreading false information on the Internet.

The individuals allegedly made postings online between July to September of 2009 incorrectly claiming that several senior government figures avoided the draft and were therefore able to skip mandatory military service, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency’s cyber crime investigation bureau.

Authorities said the list of names includes Education Minister Ahn Byong-man as well as Lee Dong-kwan, the senior secretary for public affairs at the Blue House. Both officials actually served in the military, police said.

“Under the law governing information and communications, a person with defamatory charges could face seven years in prison or fines of up to 50 million won [$43,485],” a police officer said. “Police will track down and punish people who spread malicious and groundless rumors.”

Police allege that a man surnamed Park, 30, first posted an entry on his blog last July about government officials who received exemptions from military service. Authorities say the list incorrectly included Lee of the Blue House and the son of Presidential Chief of Staff Chung Chung-kil.

Popular Internet cartoonist Park Dae-ryeong, 37, later made the list into a diagram and posted it on his Web page, adding Culture Minister Yu In-chon and the education minister to the list.

Authorities say both officials served in the military.

Hong Seong-tae, a Sangji University professor, used Park’s information for a column on the Internet news site Pressian, criticizing government officials who were able to skip the mandatory service. Hong, who is also a senior official at a local civic organization, told police that he included the list in his column without knowing that Lee and others completed military service, police said.

The list quickly spread across the Internet when news broke last September about dozens of men who were caught evading military service by undergoing phony surgery on their shoulders, which could exempt them from service. Opposition party lawmakers had accused Chung Un-chan, then the prime minister-designate, of trying to avoid his mandatory military service.

The probe began in October after two government officials filed a complaint. Police questioned 36 people and booked five, including Park, who originally created the controversial diagram, without detention.

By Kim Mi-ju []

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