New York, January 22–The Seoul Western District Court on January 21 found a 73-year-old, South Korean journalist guilty of blogging positively about North Korea and handed him a one-year suspended prison sentence, according to news reports. The court acquitted the journalist, identified only by his surname Lee in the South Korean media to protect his privacy, on charges related to following Pyongyang’s official Twitter account.
In November 2009, South Korea prosecutors charged Lee with distributing pro-North Korea material by following the Twitter account of North Korea’s main propaganda website and posting pro-Pyongyang writing on his blog, according to reports. South Korea’s National Security Law, adopted in 1948 as a temporary measure to counter infiltration by the communist North, criminalizes “anti-state” activities such as praising or sympathizing with North Korea. The two countries signed a ceasefire agreement in 1953 after the three-year Korean War but technically remain in a state of war.
“Journalists, including bloggers, should be free to report, write, and comment in South Korea,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Convicting someone for writing positively about North Korea undermines South Korea’s reputation as a modern democracy.”
Every year, several dozens of cases are filed by South Korean prosecutors over alleged violations of the law, according to Human Rights Watch. CPJ has previously documented cases of journalists being prosecuted for making positive comments about the North.
The court ruled that because Lee only followed North Korea’s propaganda Twitter account (English version) and did not share or mention any of the posts on his own account, his conduct did not constitute distributing pro-North Korean materials, according to news reports. But the court handed him a one-year sentence, suspended for two years, for repeating propaganda from a North Korean intelligence agency, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
CPJ has documented cases of journalists harassed, arrested, deported, and charged with criminal defamation in South Korea. Most recently, prosecutors charged Japanese journalist Tatsuya Kato with defaming the South Korean president in an article he wrote in which he reported a rumor that the president was absent for several hours during an April 2014 ferry disaster that left hundreds dead because she had been with a man. Kato was later acquitted of the defamation charge.