It came to light a few days ago that UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression Frank La Rue, who is visiting South Korea to investigate violations of freedom of expression, complained to the Foreign Ministry that he thought he was being followed. La Rue reportedly mentioned his suspicions during a May 6 meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Chun Young-woo, presenting as evidence a photograph of a car with someone inside filming his activities with a camcorder.
In connection with this, the Internet media site Minjung-ui Sori (Voice of the People) reported two days ago that it had confirmed through a National Intelligence Service (NIS) official that the car at the scene was an NIS vehicle. The site stated that some were now alleging NIS monitoring of La Rue. The NIS, however, denied that the vehicle in question is affiliated with the service, and police also said that the incident had nothing to do with them.
A friend passed along the Korea Times coverage to me, which uses the Hankyoreh editorial as a source, though perhaps as is to be expected, the unsigned article copies a lot in this report on reporting.
Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, who is currently visiting South Korea for research, complained to the Foreign Ministry that he believed he was being followed, the newspaper said on Saturday in an editorial.
The newspaper called for the National Intelligence Service (NIS), the nation's main spy agency, to clarify on the allegations, in an apparent indication that the act was done by the spy agency.
La Rue reportedly mentioned his suspicions during a May 6 meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Chun Young-woo, presenting as evidence a photograph of a car with someone inside filming his activities with a camcorder, it said.
Hankyoreh also cited the Voice of the People, an Internet-based newspaper in South Korea, reporting two days ago that it had confirmed through an NIS official that the car at the scene was an NIS vehicle.
The NIS, however, denied that the vehicle in question is affiliated with the service, and police also said that the incident had nothing to do with them, the newspaper said.
As I posted on Friday, La Rue came to South Korea as part of a "fact-finding mission" and "to monitor the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression." That, and the following, from a May 3rd press release:
“It will be a good opportunity to assess the progress in enhancing the right to freedom of expression in the Republic of Korea fifteen years since my predecessor visited the country, particularly in the current context where the use of the Internet has become widespread,” said Mr. La Rue, noting that the first visit by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression was to the Republic of Korea in 1995.
“During my mission, I will gather first-hand information on the situation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of the media, and the related right to freedom of assembly and association,” said the independent expert. He added that the main purpose of the mission is to “contribute, through collaborative engagement with the Government, on ways and means of better enhancing the enjoyment of the rights related to my mandate in the country.”
In a comment to Friday's post, Ben Wagner shares a small review of La Rue's talk at Yonsei University on the 15th, and reminds readers of the press conference to be held on Monday:
The talk today at Yonsei was excellent. Mr. La Rue spoke in English with a Korean translator.
Today La Rue spoke quite a bit about the importance of the internet and bloggers, calling them important "reporters" and "the poor man's press". He spoke about the need for Korea to be an example for Asia and the world in this regard because of the high interconnectivity.
La Rue said the he was particularly interested in visiting Korea because of Internet issues. He said the Korean government had a commitment not only to protect individual's right to freedom of expression but also to promote it.
The Monday press conference is open to all. La Rue said he would take questions on anything. A reporter from the Korea Herald in the audience asked if he would discuss Samsung's suit against Breen. He said he would.
I wonder if any English language and/or Korean language bloggers will show up to cover this press conference. It might be a good chance to bring up some important issues (people seem to be feeling a chill lately) and to reaffirm the rights of citizens and non-citizens to express themselves on blogs.
There have been several examples of foreigners having their livelihoods or their visa status threatened because of an opinion expressed on a blog.
The last time Korea had a UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion in town was 15 years ago... This may be an ideal opportunity to address some important issues.
The Press Conference is Monday, May 17th at 10:30am on the 19th floor of the Korea Press Center Building, Taepyongno-1Ga, Jung-Gu, Seoul.
Recent news of interest to the expat community, as Wagner mentions, is (1) Samsung's lawsuit against author and Korea Times columnist Michael Breen for making fun of their corrupt bosses in a 2009 column, and (2) Korean immigration's investigation of me this winter for contributions to local newspapers, based on a tip that, evidence suggests, is likely to have come from a reporter I criticized. But, of course it's not just non-Koreans who don't feel safe on the Korean internet, and Minerva is a name that comes immediately to mind. Reporters Without Borders said South Korea is one of the countries "under surveillance" as a potential enemy of the internet this year because
draconian laws are creating too many specific restrictions on Web users by challenging their anonymity and promoting selfcensorship.
There are limitations and problems to citing only Western, English-language sources, but for the sake of convenience a BBC poll earlier in the year found that most South Koreans don't feel safe expressing their opinions online (page 13 of this .pdf file):
South Korean users are the most clearly opposed to government regulation of the internet—83 per cent agree it should never be regulated—and they are more wary than users in most other countries about expressing opinions online, with only 30 percent agreeing it is safe to do so.
That isn't something the Christian Science Monitor picked up on, though, when reporting on that BBC survey of the countries where internet access is considered a fundamental human right:
Maybe where censorship is highest is also where people most see the Internet as a basic right? But South Korea – one of the most-wired countries on the globe – blows a hole in that theory.