By Cho Jae-hyon
Internet commentator Park Dae-sung, better known as ``Minerva,'' has been put behind bars for more than two months, completely cut off from the cyber world where he had created his kingdom and followers in recent years.
He is paying the price for writings the prosecution said are intended to harm the public interest. Park, dubbed as either a doomsayer or financial guru, was accused of having misled people with false and exaggerated financial information, forcing financial authorities to spend billions of dollars to defend the local currency against the dollar at the end of last year. Prosecutors claim his malicious online postings critical of the government's financial and economic policies put a dent in government coffers and the nation's credit standing.
In several interviews with the local media, the self-educated cyber analyst has defended himself, saying he is not guilty as he has every right to enjoy freedom of speech as guaranteed by the Korean Constitution. He said he wrote to help ordinary people suffering from the economic downturn get clearer financial and economic views and perspectives. As he described himself, he is now ``isolated on a desert island.''
Last week, the Seoul Central District Court refused to grant him bail, citing the possibility that he could flee. On Monday, the court will hold the first hearing on the case. With Minerva already one of the most famous bloggers in the world, every legal procedure will draw keen media attention both at home and abroad.
Just a week before the court hearing on Minerva, police raided homes and offices of three other bloggers to seize their computers. They are suspected of having inflated the numbers of hits they got to make their writings appear more widely read on Daum's online Agora forum.
Police are investigating whether the tech-savvy bloggers, using special software, artificially increased the number of clicks to make their anti-government writings become ``best articles'' in order to draw greater attention from netizens. They are accused of attempting to ``cook public opinion'' with the false click numbers.
Minerva is in a prison cell because of his writings containing financial information that is false in the eyes of the authorities and the bloggers are being investigated for the fabricated hit numbers on their articles. All were critical of the government, which police are quite sensitive to.
It's an open secret that netizens and companies often try to increase page views or hit numbers by various means. Of course most of them would not use computer programs to increase the figures. But if a company hires some part-timers to increase page views or click numbers on its homepage, it could be considered an act of manipulation. Actually, many companies do try it. These part-timers post various comments, acting as if they are consumers. All of these practices are an act to sway public opinion. Should all these activities be criminalized and punished? Is it possible to monitor and nab all of the manipulators? It's out of the question.
Then what about the issue of fairness in police investigations? Fairness will be called into question if these manipulations of numbers are left unpunished while those bloggers critical of the government are penalized for fabricating hit numbers.
The prosecution and police, hell bent on clearing the Internet of anti-government writings, are staging a fight that's difficult to win. It's not worth their while. Are they naive enough to believe their harsher policing or authoritarian rule will scare away the government's opponents?
With the prosecution and police becoming ultra-sensitive toward voices against the government, the job of achieving balance falls on the judiciary.
However, the judiciary also seems biased. Supreme Court Justice Shin Young-chul has been referred to the ethics committee for attempting to influence politically-sensitive trials of candlelit protestors against the import of American beef.
The court's investigation panel has found that that he told his junior judges to speed up the trials through a number of emails, calls and meetings. The trials are supposed to await the ruling by the Constitutional Court as to whether the law banning nighttime rallies ― the legal ground for indictment of the candlelit protestors ― is constitutional or not. The flaw in the judiciary won't be undone, regardless as to whether he resigns or not.
All in all, those protesting government policies remain vulnerable. Law enforcement officers are keeping people from speaking ill of the government. But any attempt to control the Internet will draw greater resistance and won't work.