When I first started using Twitter it was almost overwhelming. I found myself feeling very self-conscious about using hashtags or retweeting the wrong way. Luckily, I don’t live in South Korea where Twitter misuse can land you in jail.
Take the case of photographer Park Jung-guen. The 24 year-old artist often waxes poetic on his fascination with North Korea and its former leader from his account @seouldecadence with ironic tweets like “I’m hot for Kim Jong-il” and “I like red shirts.” In Japan or any other country these tweets wouldn’t raise any eyebrows and were seemingly tolerated in South Korea for a while. However, things got serious for Mr. Park when the authorities caught him retweeting messages by North Korea-based account @uriminzok.
In South Korea, retweeting messages from North Korea can be considered a violation of National Security Law. This law was established at the beginning of the Korean War in an effort to combat espionage and treason. Since the war hasn’t technically ended (fighting ended in 1953 but no peace treaty was ever signed), the law still stands in effect.
Article 7 of the law, which covers “Propagating and Inciting,” has been the subject of controversy in South Korea because of its dangerously broad definition. This has led to several people’s imprisonment over the past decades and more recently has taken on a new scope with the advent of the internet.
In Mr. Park’s case, his studio was raided and computer and mobile phone were seized by police on the accusation of aiding “the enemy”. During the search, police also found a book made in North Korea which they have added to the charges against him as it also violates Article 7.
His defense lawyers are confident that this is a misunderstanding by the authorities, stating that if you look through all of Mr. Park’s thousands of tweets, there is ample evidence that the man who once wrote “Kim Jong-il Car Sex” is not a spy and should not be taken as any kind of threat to national security.
Mr. Park himself maintains that everything he has done including the retweets were both as jokes and out of a genuine curiosity of North Koreans’ culture and way of thinking.
Although this action may seem shocking to those of us in countries where freedom of speech is protected, it is a bleak reminder of the continuing state of tension South Korea is in and the freedoms often lost in the name of security.