Posted : 2009-01-11 16:57
Updated : 2009-01-11 16:57

Parties Clash Over Freedom of Expression

By Kang Hyun-kyung
Staff Reporter

A Seoul court's approval of the arrest of a celebrity blogger who uploaded a variety of commentary articles onto a popular Internet forum under the name of Minerva has prompted politicians to engage in a pros and cons debate over limiting freedom of expression.

Leaders of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) contend that freedom can be limited in cases of cyber defamation, which has victimized many celebrities and ordinary citizens.

The GNP called for the passage of a set of bills aimed at limiting freedom of expression.

Ruling party lawmakers are seeking measures banning protestors from wearing masks and posting malicious comments on people online and enabling shop owners to seek class action lawsuits against protestors.

GNP lawmaker Shin Ji-ho submitted a bill that would ban protestors from wearing masks during protest rallies. Shin explained protestors' wearing masks made it difficult for police to identify rule-breaking and violent protestors.

Another GNP lawmaker, Sohn Beom-kyu, submitted a bill to allow businesses to file class action lawsuits against protestors. The ruling party also seeks a measure through which those who defame people online would be subject to a jail term of up to three years.

Police can investigate the cyber defamation cases without a victim's complaint if the bill is passed.

The largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) called the GNP initiatives ``malicious MB bills'' after President Lee Myung-bak's initials, vowing they would block their passage. DP leaders say the bills were designed to repress people's basic rights.

Floor leaders of the two sides agreed to deliberate the bills in the National Assembly session in February but rough sailing is expected. They agreed to pass the measures after both sides reached an agreement, meaning neither side can push for a vote without the other's consent.

The controversy over the freedom of expression surfaced after the court allowed prosecutors to put Internet-based commentator Minerva behind bars for the spread of false information. The court judge said his postings had a negative effect on national credibility.

Hailing the decision, GNP Spokesman Yoon Sang-hyun said citizens may not pursue the freedom of expression at the expense of social norms. ``Those who pursue such freedom are required to take responsibility for their actions but are free to pursue the right as they please,'' he said.

On the contrary, opposition parties said they were disappointed with Minerva's arrest. ``The DP laments that the court made a politically motivated decision and gave up its role as a supporter of basic rights. The decision sends a message that people should keep quiet even when the government is in the wrong,'' according to the DP statement.

The minor Democratic Labor Party said the decision posed a threat to freedom of expression and democracy, adding it declares the death of Internet democracy.

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