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The Republic of Korea has one of the highest percentages of broadband internet connectivity in the world, yet it trails behind on internet freedoms. The country has come a long way since 1987 and the restoration of a multi-party political system following decades of authoritarian and military regimes. It plays an active role internationally, including as a member of the Human Rights Council, and has ratified the majority of international human rights treaties, including those allowing for individual complaints. However, in the last two years there has been a shrinking space for freedom of expression, primarily due to new and more restrictive interpretations and application of existing laws.
Korea has one of the highest levels of internet connectivity in the region and the world, where more than 80 percent of households have access to a fast broadband internet connection. Citizens have really embraced becoming ‘netizens’ and there has been the emergence of an active and vibrant online culture, including the exchange of diverse views and opinions on online discussion forums. In Korean society the internet has become an indispensable tool to exercise the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas and to mobilise social change.
UN criticises “shrinking freedom”
However in his second visit to the country by the UN Special Rapporteur, Frank La Rue, the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression is not what it could be. Mr La Rue says in his findings “I am concerned that in the last two years, there has been a shrinking space for freedom of expression in the Republic of Korea, primarily due to new and more restrictive interpretations and application of existing laws.”
He goes on to add “For the Republic of Korea to be a leader internationally, it must not only show the world its economic and technological prowess, but also its commitment to a truly democratic model of governance with full respect for human rights.” Read the full report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom in the Republic of Korea.
APC member Jinbonet works to secure the country’s internet freedoms and they support the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur. Jinbonet representative Chang Yeokyung says that “the freedom of expression on the internet in South Korea is facing a serious crisis. The netizens of Korea have to be prepared to let their articles be deleted or receive criminal penalty for posting opinion criticising the government.”
Free flow of information meets repression
Chang urges the UN to go further in their position – “The United Nations Human Rights Council should officially recommend the Korean government solves the problems highlighted.” However he says “the Korean government is expected to deny the report.”
“Freedom of expression on the internet cannot be taken for granted,” says APC executive director, Anriette Esterhuysen. APC advocates for human rights on the internet in global and national policy arena. “More and more governments and legal systems respond with fear and repression to the internet’s ability to strengthen the free flow of information. Jinbonet has the solidarity and support of the entire APC network in their struggle for the right to speak out in the interest of greater transparency and justice.”
Given the given the critical importance of freedom of opinion and expression in building strong democratic states the report from the UN urges Korea to address freedom of expression.
Read the full report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom in the Republic of Korea.
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