SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean officials said Friday they were considering whether to deport a Korean-American woman accused of praising rival North Korea during a recent lecture.
Prosecutors Thursday asked the Korea Immigration Service to deport California-resident Shin Eun-mi after determining her comments violated South Korea's anti-Pyongyang security law, according to immigration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity citing office rules.
The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war, split along the world's most heavily fortified border since the 1950-53 Korean War which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. In South Korea, praising North Korea can be punished by up to seven years in prison under its anti-Pyongyang security law.
Critics have called for the security law to be scrapped, saying it infringes upon freedom of speech. Supporters argue that the law is needed because of constant threats from North Korea. Past authoritarian leaders in South Korea frequently used the law to suppress political rivals.
Shin regularly posted stories about her trips to North Korea on OhmyNews, a popular South Korean online news site. Her book on North Korea trips was included in a government-designated reading list in 2013, but the culture ministry withdrew it earlier this week amid criticism of the book. Ministry officials said they will seek to retrieve 1,200 copies that were distributed to libraries across South Korea.
During a November lecture in Seoul, Shin said that many North Korean defectors living in South Korea had told her they want to go back home and that North Koreans hope new leader Kim Jong Un will bring change. She also praised the taste of North Korean beer and the cleanliness of North Korea's rivers.
Shin has said she had no intention of praising the country and was only expressing what she felt during her travels in North Korea.
In an article published by OhmyNews, Shin said she will never return to South Korea because her "mother country" no longer wants her. According to her Facebook page, she was born in the southeastern South Korean city of Daegu and went to high school and university in Seoul.
In December, a high school student threw a homemade explosive device toward a podium where she was speaking, leaving two people injured. Shin was unhurt. The student was sent to a juvenile detention center and awaits a court trial, according to a local prosecution office.
Shin had been holding a series of joint lectures across South Korea with Hwang Sun, a former spokeswoman for a now-defunct small progressive party who has been long been hounded by claims she supports North Korea.
Prosecutors asked a Seoul court to approve Hwang's arrest over alleged security law violations, according to court officials. Hwang was in the news in 2005 when she gave birth by cesarean section during a visit to Pyongyang.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.