Rep. Ahn Hyoung-hwan
Grand National Party
By Lee Tae-hoon
The police forced website operators to delete 42,787 pro-North Korean posts on the Internet in the first half of the year, up about 100 times compared to five years ago, according to data released by Rep. Ahn Hyoung-hwan of the governing Grand National Party Thursday.
The result can be attributed to the Lee Myung-bak administration’s strict desire to crackdown on anti-government online messages and the launch of a cyber team to exclusively handle subversive activities, a senior police official separately told The Korea Times while asking for anonymity.
Under the previous liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration, the number of censored online articles stood only at 1,238 in 2005; 1,388 in 2006; 1,434 in 2007; 1,793 in 2008.
The director of a cyber crime team at the National Police Agency noted that the number has sharply increased after the Lee administration took office in 2008, jumping to 14,430 in 2009.
“Police were often unable to enforce the law as it lacked staff and support under the previous liberal government,” the police official said.
The official, however, denied the political motive behind the government’s censorship.
The National Security Law prohibits the distribution of articles praising or sympathetic to the communist state.
Oh Chang-ik, director of the Citizens Solidarity for Human Rights, defined the sudden surge of censorship as “post trauma” of the Lee administration following nationwide candlelight vigils against U.S. beef imports in 2008.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets for months shortly after Lee’s inauguration in protest against the import of American beef over fears of mad cow disease. This triggered violent clashes between protestors and riot police and dramatically lowered Lee’s approval rating.
“The epicenter of the mass anti-government protest was the Internet,” Oh told the paper. “Since then, the government has oppressed the freedom of speech in cyberspace.”
Police have also booked 21 people for allegedly making positive remarks about the North this year, up from 18 last year.
Less than 10 people were charged for the same offense in 2007 and 2008.
Those whose actions could threaten national security are subject to a maximum jail term of 10 years under the National Security Law.
Those contacting North Koreans without first reporting to the Unification Minister can be fined up to 3 million won ($2,500), under the inter-Korea Exchange and Cooperation Act.
In a bid to counter the North’s online propaganda campaign, the government has blocked access to 13 accounts for social networking sites this year, including Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook, as they are purportedly operated by Pyongyang or pro-North Korean figures, a police source said.