Blogger arrested for posting financial predictions

New York, January 29, 2009–A South Korean blogger in custody since January 7, charged with spreading false information online, should be set free, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Park Dae-sung, described in international news reports as an unemployed, self-taught economist, anonymously posted predictions about the global financial climate in online bulletin boards under the pen name “Minerva,” to public acclaim in Korea.

Prosecutors charged him under electronic communications laws–which make it a crime to spread rumors against the public interest–on January 22, with destabilizing the foreign exchange market in a December 29 posting, the reports said. He had alleged that the government was urging financial institutions to stop buying dollars in a bid to shore up the won, The Associated Press reported. Although some traders said they had been encouraged to offload the dollar, the government issued a denial and Park subsequently withdrew the post, according to the International Herald Tribune. Also in question is a July post he wrote saying the Finance Ministry suspended all foreign currency exchanges, according to Time magazine, quoting official Korean news agency Yonhap.

“The use of communication laws to imprison Park Dae-sung is a troubling step backward for democracy in South Korea. He should be released immediately,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Expressing opinions about the economy online is not a crime.”

Park faces a maximum five-year prison term or a 50 million won ($36,360) fine if convicted in his trial, which has not yet been set, news reports said. He is seeking bail, which was initially denied last week, AP reported.

South Korea has a lively online community and Park convinced thousands of followers he had financial expertise. Local newspapers carried his forecasts, which included the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, according to the reports. But the government–“usually able to assert its views by strenuously voicing its opinions to newspapers and broadcasters by way of phone calls,” according to Time–was unable to locate him prior to his detention this month.

“I wrote articles to help those people alienated from the government…who have suffered from the financial crisis,” Park told reporters after his arrest.