Don't Forget the Dark Side of Living in South Korea

Time | 6/11/2018 | Staff
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Nowrojee is regional director for Asia Pacific at the Open Society Foundations.

It was little more than a year ago that South Korean police descended on the home of Lee Jin-young in Seoul, arrested him and placed him in solitary confinement. Lee is a long-time activist who had already been jailed in the 1980s for promoting democracy, but this time he was thrown in prison for different reasons. His so-called crime was running Labor Books, an online library of information on North Korea. Lee was charged with spreading literature that “benefitted the enemy” and could have faced years in prison until a court eventually quashed the charges against him.

Case - South - Korea - Threat - War

Sadly, this is not a unique case in South Korea, where the looming threat of war with the North has taken a serious toll on personal freedoms.

President Donald Trump’s on-again, off-again summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il —currently set to go ahead June 12—has dominated world headlines for months. Rights groups have called for human rights violations in North Korea—which happen on an industrial scale through labour camps and mass executions—to remain on the table during discussions. (It emerged on Monday that U.S. officials have agreed not to bring up Pyongyang’s human rights issues at the summit.) Lost in the debate, however, has been that the South is also grappling with its own human rights challenges. Many of these are a consequence of the decades-long state of war with its secluded neighbor.

South - Korea - Ways - Democracy - Media

Although South Korea is in many ways a vibrant democracy with strong media and civil society, human rights continue to be sacrificed in the name of “national security.” Successive governments have relied on tough security laws to restrict freedom of expression, in particular when it comes to debate about the North. The most nefarious of these is the National Security Law...
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Democrate or Republican, the difference is less than the thickness of a cigarette paper, or a slice of pastrami at a delicatesean.
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