Free Speech? F*ck You, Citizens!

This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series Beef Protests '08

How is a democracy supposed to work when citizens can be criminally prosecuted for disagreeing with the government? It’s too bad that there’s nobody left outside Korea who can pressure the government here to actually allow criticism, differing opinions, and so on.

But hey, when the major governments of the world are convinced they have God on their side…

The national prosecution and police say they are going to criminally prosecute people involved in spreading so-called “mad cow horror stories” (gwangubyeong goedam) on the Internet, in addition to prosecuting the organizers of candlelight protests against imports of American beef.

A high-ranking police official, said the police see it as a “serious problem” that there is “inaccurate information about American beef and criticism of government policy that is not factual overflowing” on the Internet.

Laws that could possibly put to use in criminal prosecution include information and communications laws, and laws against defamation and“obstruction of business” (eommu banghae joe).

I don’t see how publishing information online is “obstructing business” but you know, I guess when you’re rummaging around for laws to stop people from saying they disagree with your policies, one hammer is as good as another for that recalcitrant nail.

Students and other young people I know are saying, increasingly, that they’re worried… they’re using words like “dictator” when they come and talk to me, talking about the people who ran this country twenty and thirty years ago.

That’s giving me the chills, and to be honest, I’m growing more and more eager for the time when Lime and I move on outta here.

Series Navigation<< Seoul Demo, 2 May 2008Mad Cow Update >>

7 thoughts on “Free Speech? F*ck You, Citizens!

  1. It’s ironic that the politician LMB resembles more every day is the father of his old GNP nomination rival, Park Geun-hye.

    Welcome to Park Chung-hee redux: the Bulldozer era of Korean politics.


  2. So it’s Ok for industry representatives to incite public demonstrations by sending false messages like “First victim of mad cow disease found on May 2. This is not a rumor, but reality. Come to the rally at Cheonggye Plaza at 7 p.m. tomorrow.” ??

    Sounds like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater to me.

  3. 1) It’s not so much the fact that publishing information online is considered “obstruction of business” that bothers me, it’s the fact that there is a law against “obstruction of business” in the first place.

    2) Please, please, please, do not give in to hysteria and start comparing Korea’s leaders today with the military dictatorships during which people were killed for disagreeing with the government. Are current developments worrying? Yes. But let’s not go all Godwin here.

  4. Guys,

    Well, I’m not going to be comparing till I’m dragged out of my classroom over blog postings, but… as I said, what’s giving me the chills is the number of students who seemingly independently have started up conversations with me about it, and made the comparison (or comparisons like it) themselves.

    I think there should be laws against obstruction of business because otherwise every group with a petty cause could get away with picketing businesses all year long. People with legitimate grievances should be willing and able to obstruct business, and the law shouldn’t be abused, but I think at some point in a society whose economy depends on business, it’s important to have a way of forcing the issue and letting business happen.

    What’s scary is that nobody’s yet selling the beef being protested now; “obstruction of business” isn’t even a coherent charge until businesses are actually selling the stuff. Till then, it’s just consensus-building.

    By the way, Lime tells me I shouldn’t worry about being dragged out of my classroom; she says that the kinds of things she’s seen posted in the Korean net are much more extreme, including the sort of thing that would provoke a visit from guys in black suits and sunglasses if it were happening in the US. (And I don’t mean Will Smith.)

    I do think there’s some value in pointing out autocratic tendencies on the right, especially to highlight a kind of heredity of mindset. It’s a useful political move, and warranted. (And given the fact that enough of the polity seems to have been moved to vote for Lee out of either self-interest, acceptance of the (unsupported and very vague) idea he’d be “good for the economy”, or Protestant solildarity, I’m wondering whether it won’t be a useful sound byte in a few years’ time, when the next election looms like the shadow of a space station falling out of orbit.

    But calling anyone Park Jr. at this point would be more problematic… unless, of course, it really was literally a Park Jr. in office.

  5. Daniel,

    Your post was in the spam filter when I replied to Charles and Roboseyo. Sorry about that!

    Do you have a source on that charge? I haven’t heard anything about that so far, and that would be something I’d not be cool with. However, I do know that those who organized the flashmob also did a lot of discussion and announcing online; my fiancee didn’t come across anything like that bald-faced lie.

    But even if misinformation is happening, I don’t think crackdowns and arrests are a sensible response. The sensible response would be a very open, rational, balanced presentation of the issues and arguments as to why it is safe, on national TV. No distortions or dismissals of the fears; honest discussion. Whatever nonsense was used to fuel fears, public trust will not be gained by doing what looks like silencing opposition.

  6. In drawing the LMB/Park Chunghee parallel, I wasn’t just referring to this supposed, possible suppression of dissent:

    -both also share a tendency toward concentration of power around the president,

    -both have shown signs of wanting to control the press (remember the “list” of journalists, including left/right bias and personal information, that LMB compiled during the transition?)

    -both seem to think close, even hand-in-glove ties between chaebols and the government will solve the country’s economic problems

    -both also believe Korea needs more transportation infrastructure (canal, anyone?)

    — I didn’t mean LMB’s planning to drag me out of my home for criticizing me, or open fire on student protesters (though he’s vowed to be harder on protesters than Roh Moo-hyun was).

    Anyway, he’s got my attention, and I’ll be watching everything he does with a jaded eye from here on in.

  7. Roboseyo,

    Well, yeah, those other, more authoritarian tendencies need to be watched. I think that’s why my students are also leery of him, and I have to admit, he discomfits me. But I find comparisons with Bush a little more palatable.

    (And reasonable, aside from the infrastructure issue. Actually, I think Korea needs more transport infrastructure too, though not of the canal kind. I mean better and more usable public transport and fixing the damned Seoul bottleneck problem. Traffic into Seoul from the South is just insanely jammed almost every time I’ve taken the Honam Expressway into the city.)

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