South Korea man jailed for writing poem praising North – JURIST

Lee Yoon-seop, a 68-year-old man from South Korea, was sentenced to 14 months in jail Monday for writing a poem that praised North Korea and entering it into a competition organised by a North Korean propaganda website, according to the Yonhap News Agency. He was charged with breaching South Korea’s National Security Act which, under Article 7, bans praising, inciting or propagating activities of an antigovernment organization.

The National Security Act has come under criticism from human rights organisations in recent years, including allegations that it was used as an “excuse to deny people the right to express different political views and to exercise fundamental human rights including the right to freedom of expression as established in international standards.” In 2012, South Korean man Park Jung-geun received a suspended sentence for retweeting content from a North Korean Twitter account. More recently, in 2014 a 73-year-old man, only identified as “Lee” was acquitted of charges for following the official Twitter account for North Korea but was sentenced to a year in jail for writing blogs that praised the North.

The UN Human Rights Committee raised concerns over the use of Article 7 of the National Security Act in October 2023, but it was informed that there were no plans to abolish the article “which was warranted for protecting national security.” South Korea assured the committee that the “Government was protecting the freedom of expression of its citizens.”

In this latest case, Lee Yoon-seop was accused of submitting a poem in 2016 to the Uriminzokkiri website, which is a state-controlled North Korean website. Submitted as part of a competition run by the website back in 2016, it praised North Korea, stating that “if the two Koreas were united under Pyongyang’s socialist system, people would get free housing, healthcare and education.” The sentencing court said that Lee had glorified and praised North Korea and had threatened the “existence and security of the country or the basic liberal democratic order over a long period of time.”

Amnesty International issued a statement Monday responding to the sentencing. East Asia researcher Boram Jang said that ‘The National Security Act should not be used arbitrarily to harass, arrest or silence those who are only peacefully exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression.” The statement went on to call for South Korea to amend the National Security Act and, in particular Article 7, to ensure alignment with international human rights laws.

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