South Korea arrests woman for making pro-North comments

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 14, 2015 11:50 AM

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean authorities arrested a former member of a leftist political party on Wednesday for breaking a state security law by making favorable comments about the North, the same law under which a Korean-American woman was deported four days ago.

Hwang Seon, a unification activist who rose to prominence in 2005 when she had a baby in Pyongyang, was taken into custody early on Wednesday, said a prosecution official who asked not to be identified.

The prosecution official said a Seoul court on Tuesday granted a request to detain Hwang on charges of breaking the National Security Law. Hwang denied the charges as she entered the court for a hearing.

The law, enacted after Korea was split at the end of World War Two but before the 1950-53 Korean War, prohibits South Koreans from publicly praising the North Korean regime.

It is considered obsolete by liberal critics, who say it is often used by conservative governments to stifle political opposition and suppress freedom of speech.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Monday the law was still needed as a way to protect the South from the North, with which it technically remains at war under a truce that suspended fighting in the Korean War.

The United States, a key ally of Seoul, expressed concern about the application of the National Security Law, saying the law "as interpreted and applied in some cases, limits freedom of expression and restricts access to the Internet."

"We encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, with our partners around the world, such as the Republic of Korea," a U.S. State Department spokesperson said.

The State Department expressed similar concerns over the case of a Korean-American woman who was deported to the United States on Saturday for making positive comments about life in the North, a potential violation of the same law, as well as immigration laws.

Shin Eun-mi, a South Korea-born American who came to the South last year as a tourist, had spoken positively of life in North Korea in speeches around the country - some with Hwang - as well as in online posts.

Shin blamed South Korea's news media for encouraging alienation between the two Koreas.

(Reporting by Kahyun Yang, addtional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; writing by Jack Kim, editing by G Crosse and Paul Tait)