UN expert warns of increasing restrictions on free speech in Republic of Korea

17 May 2010

Full respect for human rights in the Republic of Korea, particularly the right to freedom of opinion and expression, is diminishing, as courts are more restrictive in their interpretation and implementation of existing laws, said an independent United Nations expert.

“For the Republic of Korea to be a leader internationally, it must show its commitment to a truly democratic model of governance with full respect for human rights,” Frank la Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, said in a statement issued today following an official visit to the country.

Korean courts have played an important role in upholding the right to freedom of expression, particularly since the restoration in 1987 of a multi-party political system, but “the increasing number of prosecutions creates a chilling effect in respect of the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, regardless of the outcomes of the decisions of the courts.”

In the report following his 12-day country visit, Mr. la Rue noted six main areas of concern, including restrictions on regulations of freedom of expression on the Internet, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression prior to elections, the National Security Act, public broadcasting, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression of public officials.

Among his specific recommendations, the independent expert urged the Government to remove the crime of defamation from its Criminal Code, and promote a culture of tolerance regarding criticism.

He also drew attention to the rights of Government officials, including teachers, to express their opinions both individually and collectively, and stressed that “the principle of diversity and pluralism is essential in any public broadcasting system.”

The Special Rapporteur will submit a final report on his visit to the Human Rights Council in Geneva next year.

Mr. la Rue said that the report was compiled despite being “deeply disappointed” that he could not meet with President Lee Myung-bak, Prime Minister Chung Un Chan or any of the ministers.

“Despite my requests, I was unable to meet with the Prosecutor-General nor members of the National Intelligence Service, despite the fact that I came to the country on an official invitation,” said the expert, who was also unable to meet collectively with members of the National Human Rights Commission.

Adding that he hopes to continue to engage constructively and openly with the Government, Mr. la Rue said that “Human rights transcend political ideologies, and its respect should constitute a common aspiration for all individuals in Republic of Korea.”


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