Amnesty International yesterday accused South Korea of systematically abusing a 65-year-old security law in order to stifle debate and silence political opposition in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
In a 40-page report the rights watchdog documented a “dramatic increase” in the use of the National Security Law (NSL) under the administration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took office in 2008.
Since 2008, the authorities have increasingly used vaguely worded clauses of the law to arbitrarily target people or organizations perceived to oppose government policies, especially on North Korea, Amnesty said.
“The NSL is being used as a smoke screen to hound critics of the government, with serious consequences for those targeted,” Rajiv Narayan, Amnesty’s East Asia Researcher, said in a statement.
The report cited figures from the National Prosecutors Office showing the number of new cases registered under the law had nearly doubled from 46 in 2008 to 90 last year. The majority were booked on charges of posting allegedly pro-Pyongyang content online.
“No one is denying the right of South Korea to ensure the security of its citizens. But that is not what is being witnessed with the arbitrary and widening application of the NSL. Such abuse has to end,” Narayan said.
The report highlighted what it described as a trend for invoking the NSL against individuals and groups that had no tangible pro-North stance. In a recent case, a court handed down a 10-month suspended prison sentence to a 24-year-old photographer, Park Jeung-geun, who re-tweeted postings from a North Korean Twitter account.