South Korea: Activist Indicted for Retweeting North Korean Messages

South Korean prosecutors indicted a photographer and freedom-of-speech activist last week on charges of violating national security law, for retweeting messages posted by an official North Korean government Twitter account. Despite the international media's widespread coverage, the case went seriously under-reported in South Korean media.

This case has sparked another round of debate on the controversial national security law, which prohibits “acts benefiting the enemy” without specifying what constitutes such acts.

Controversial tweets

Park Jung-geun, 23, was detained last month, but the incident actually goes back to September 2010, when police raided his photo studio in Seoul. According to one news report [ko], Park, from 2010 March to January 2011, with his two Twitter accounts (@seouldecadence, @dprkdecadence), retweeted about 102 messages originally tweeted by North Korean Twitter account @uriminzok. He also tweeted 30 links that led to North Korean video content.

Twitter profile image of user @windburial, the user switched to this image created by Park in order to show his support to Park. 

Twitter profile image of user @windburial, the user switched to this image created by Park in order to show his support to Park.

The overall number of Park's “problematic” tweets is 384, which is only about 0.5 per cent of his entire tweets. In his trial, these tweets were depicted as “an expression of an agreement with the enemy's (referring to North Korea) propaganda” and were accused of “promoting the enemy's messages”.

Park claimed his retweets were a joke made to lampoon the North Korean regime and explained that the misunderstanding rose from reading his tweets out of context.

For instance, Park tweeted a tweaked image of a North Korean poster (see right). Using a typically North Korean poster, which are usually aggressive, warmongering and whose major color is red, Park replaced the soldier's face with his own face and the rifle with a bottle of whisky.

In another example, Park compared himself to North Korea's new heir, Kim Jong-un, since like Kim, he had ‘inherited’ something from his father, which in Park's case is a photo studio.

South Korean media silence

What has baffled South Koreans however, is that although the police raided Park's studio last year and there has been quite strong opposition against the case online (including the creation of Internet photo memes of Park), recent updates have mostly come from the international media. Until local media reported about this unusual flow of information, Park's indictment was fairly new to the South Korean general public.

Hong Sung-soo (@sungsoohtweeted [ko]:

“北 풍자한 박정근이 이적행위?”…외신 일제히 비판 : 뉴욕타임스, 워싱턴포스트, AP, AFP, UPI, CBS, MSNBC, 더 오스트레일리안, BBC… 외신보도 슈퍼 그랜드슬램 달성!!

“Really? Has Park committed national treason by lampooning North Korea?” Foreign media unanimously criticized (the indictment), including the New York Times, Washington Post,  AP, AFP, UPI, CBS, MSNBC, the Australian, BBC – Congratulations on hitting the Grand Slam in the international media coverage.

A journalist from progressive newspaper, Huh Jae-yeon (@welovehani) tweeted [ko]:

우리만 보도안하고 있음

Only we – the Korean media – are remaining silent on this matter.

A Twitter account has been set up to support Park (@freepark_bot), summarizing[ko] in just one sentence what his real charge is:

박정근의 죄목: 트위터로 이것저것 한 거

The name of Mr. Park's crime: Trying this and that on Twitter.

Internet photo meme

Here are some of the meme photos produced back in September 2011, consolidated by Wiki Tree: firstly, starting with Park's original Twitter profile photo:

Park's original Twitter profile image, Image from his account @seouldecadence

Park's original Twitter profile image, Image from his account @seouldecadence

Profile image of Twitter user @blu_pn. Posted on Wiki Tree site, CC

The image above shows Park's image with him holding a large blue pen. The tweet [ko] read:

I've switched my profile photo. (Sorry for using Park Jung-geun's photo without permission) It is to voice opposition against the government authority's raid on Mr. Park. I have never met Mr.Park, neither am I a socialist party member (like Park himself). I am not even his follower. But as a member of our civil society, I support his rights to freedom of speech!

Some of the messages from the Wiki Tree link [ko] read…

Twitter user @yawoori [ko]:

우리 모두는 박정근이다!

We are all Park Jung-geun!

Twitter user @Chocoberryp [ko]:

프로필 제 사진 아닙니다. ‘국가보안법 위반'이라는 이유로 박정근님에 대한 압수수색에 항의하는 의미에서 수많은 사람들이 프로필에 박정근을 자처하고 있습니다.

This profile photo is not mine. Many people have changed their Twitter profile photos to Park's image as an expression of protest against the police raid on Mr. Park, which was done under the name of ‘violation of the national security law’
Various Internet meme photos of Park Jung-geun, Posted in the Wiki Tree site, CC

Various Internet meme photos of Park Jung-geun, Posted in the Wiki Tree site, CC

Twitter user @Solidaritat [ko]:

이토록 많은 박정근을 죄다 가두지는 못할 것이며, 또 이토록 많은 박정근으로 인해 그 한 명의 박정근은 반드시 자유로워질 것이다. 필시 그리될 것이다.

They cannot arrest all these Park Jung-geuns. And thanks to all these numerous Park Jung-geuns, that one Park Jung-geun will be set free. That will eventually happen.

Rights advocates, including Amnesty International, released a statement to voice worries that the law “has a chilling effect on freedom of expression in South Korea” and “is used not to address threats to national security, but instead to intimidate people and limit their rights to free speech”.

Park's socialist party filed an online petition [ko] denouncing such decision as “an abuse of the national security law which is an icon of the military, authoritarian regime era”.

The remaining problem is that still a considerable number of Korean public are in support of this controversial law under which a considerable number of innocent citizens have been arrested and detained. Kim Nakho (@capcold), who has a Twitter profile photo that tweaked Park's profile image, tweeted [ko]:

어처구니없는 박정근 구속…보다 그에 관한 외신보도 때문에 급 조명받는 시대착오 국보법. 이왕 관심 가진 김에, 왜 그게 지금껏 살아있는지에 대해도 관심을. 국보법 없으면 국가보안 망한다 믿는 평범한 많은 이들의 학습능력 결여된 지지 말이다.

Park's arrest is so outrageous. What is more ridiculous is that this outdated national security law that recently caught the attention of the media because of the international media's coverage on it. Since we have started looking into this matter, we should focus on why that law has survived til now. It is because the ordinary people who so blindly bought into the notion that if the national security law stops existing, national security will be compromised. Those people who support the law for that reason are really lack the educational ability [lack understanding].


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