The administration, unlike in previous moves, is expected to make no official response in the near future.
According to the Yonhap news agency, Frank La Rue, U.N. special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, wrote this in his report to the U.N. scheduled to be released in June. In it, he said the South Korean government has been increasingly sensitive about guaranteeing one of the most basic rights after candlelit vigils took place in 2008 against the administration’s resumption of U.S. beef imports.
“The special rapporteur notes his concern that since the candlelight demonstrations of 2008, there have been increased restrictions on individuals’ rights to freedom of opinion and expression, primarily due to an increasing number of prosecutions, based on levy that are often not in conformity with international standards, of individuals who express views who are not in agreement with the position of the government,” he said in his 29-page report, “Mission to the Republic of Korea.”
La Rue has reportedly expressed his concerns over eight sectors, including restrictions to freedom of expression online and assembly, as well as civil servants’ rights to opine. Often-threatened defamation suits and restriction of rights citing national security also drew his attention.
He pointed to the National Intelligence Service’s filing of a defamation suit against civic activist Park Won-soon for revealing the organization’s illegal prying into the lives of citizens, and the government’s suit against online commentator “Minerva” for his criticisms of its economic policies. The authorities lost both suits.
La Rue suggested that the government step up its efforts to secure citizens’ basic rights to international standards. “The special rapporteur makes recommendations on each of the main issues addressed to fully guarantee the right of all individuals to express diverse opinions, both in law and in practice which would further consolidate democratic foundations of the Republic of Korea,” he wrote.
The report is based on La Rue’s observation of 16 administrative departments last May. He also met people claiming to be victims of suppression.
Once its contents are confirmed, the report will be translated into the official languages of the U.N. and made public. The U.N. stated the visit was the first in 15 years by a U.N. envoy mandated to monitor the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, one of the nation’s largest civic groups, sent a statement to the U.N. regarding the report saying that the administration should cease monitoring and prosecuting individuals for comments based on personal opinions. It also suggested abolishing several laws that hinder the right of freedom of expression, the group said.
“The government will have to listen to the U.N.’s advice. But I am worried whether the Lee Myung-bak administration is ready to accept criticisms,” said Lee Ji-eun, staff worker at the group, said.
An official at the Foreign Ministry said that the ministry is planning to reply to the draft within the month but has no plans to make it official at this point.
In 2008, the National Police Agency openly denounced Amnesty International’s report that protesters against the government were suppressed with excessive force by police. The police said the international human rights watchdog lacked an understanding of Korean society.