A Korean-American woman accused of praising North Korea in a recent lecture said she was to be deported from South Korea, in the latest in a series of cases that critics say infringe on the nation’s freedom of speech.
The South’s Korea Immigration Service decided to deport Shin Eun-mi, a California resident, after prosecutors determined that her comments violated South Korea’s National Security Law, agency official Kim Du-yeol said.
Shin said she would be taking a flight out of South Korea yesterday evening, but hopes to be able to return to both North and South Korea.
In South Korea, praising North Korea can be punished by up to seven years in prison.
In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Shin had been barred from exiting South Korea for three weeks, and that the US has seen reports indicating the prosecution has asked for her to be deported and banned from the country for five years.
In a rare note of criticism of a key ally, Psaki said that despite South Korea’s generally strong record on human rights, the security law limits freedom of expression and restricts access to the Internet.
Supporters argue that the law is needed because of continuing threats from North Korea. However, critics want it scrapped. Past authoritarian leaders in South Korea frequently used the law to suppress political rivals.
Shin posted stories about her trips to North Korea on OhmyNews, a popular South Korean online news Web site. Her book on her trips was included in a government-designated reading list in 2013, but the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism removed it this week. Ministry officials said they would seek to retrieve 1,200 copies that were distributed to libraries across South Korea.
During a lecture in Seoul in November last year, Shin said many North Korean defectors living in South Korea had told her they want to go back home and that North Koreans hope new leader Kim Jong-un brings change. She also praised the taste of North Korean beer and the cleanliness of North Korea’s rivers.
Shin has said she had no intention of praising the country and was only expressing what she felt during her travels there.
Conservatives have sided with government moves to expel Shin, accusing her of ignoring North Korea’s abysmal human rights conditions. However, her impending deportation drew sharp criticism from liberals who say the conservative government of South Korean President Park Geun-hye is clamping down on freedom of speech.
“The decision to deport her is a clear violation of human rights,” the Hankyoreh newspaper said in an editorial on Friday. “The government is taking the lead in trampling on human rights.”
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters: “The [UN] Secretary-General’s position on freedom of expression and freedom of opinion is well known... That would apply here as well.”
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