Alleged insult ... the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, right. Photo: AFP
SEOUL: A South Korean man received a suspended 10-month prison term on Wednesday for resending North Korean propaganda posts from his Twitter account.
The man, Park Jung-geun, 24, a photographer and social media and freedom of speech activist, was arrested in January on charges of violating South Korea's controversial National Security Law, which bans "praising, encouraging or propagandising" for North Korea but does not clearly define what constitutes such acts. He was later released on bail.
The message is that if you babble on Twitter carelessly, you can end up in prison.
Mr Park was accused of resending 100 posts from an official North Korean Twitter account until late last year, including one that said "Long Live Kim Jong Il!" After Kim Jong-il, the longtime North Korean dictator, died last December, Mr Park also wrote on his Twitter account that he wanted to send North Korea "uranium and plutonium" as a show of condolence. He also uploaded web links to North Korean propaganda songs.
Mr Park denied praising the North Korean government and said his intention was to lampoon the North Korean regime.
In a North Korean post that he tweaked and sent out on Twitter, he replaced a swarthy North Korean soldier's face with a downcast version of his own and the soldier's rifle with a bottle of whiskey.
In his ruling, the presiding judge, Shin Jin-woo, acknowledged that some of Mr Park's posts were parody. But he said Mr Park's overall acts were tantamount to "supporting and joining forces with an anti-state entity". The justice said his court suspended the prison term, however, because Mr Park promised not to repeat his act.
Prosecutors argued that Mr Park's Twitter posts served as a dangerous tool for spreading North Korean propaganda.
"The National Security Law is interpreted too broadly, so it is abused to suppress the freedom of expression in the name of national security," Mr Park said by phone after the ruling. He said he planned to appeal the verdict.
Many Twitter users criticised the ruling. One said, "The message is that if you babble on Twitter carelessly, you can end up in prison."
The United Nations and human rights groups have for years called on South Korea to repeal or revise the law, which the country's past military dictators had used not only against people suspected of being spies but also against political dissidents. But the law has proved resilient in a society where many fear North Korea, which has launched military provocations against the South in recent years.
The South Korean government under their conservative President, Lee Myung-bak, "increasingly invoked the National Security Law to restrict freedom of expression, particularly in the context of discussions pertaining to North Korea," Amnesty International said in its 2012 annual report, citing Mr Park's case and a sharp rise in the number of websites censored by the government for fear of threatening national security. "The authorities closely monitored the internet and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook."
South Korea still blocks its citizens' access to North Korean websites, though North Korea has recently found a way to penetrate the firewalls by using Twitter accounts.
The Twitter account whose posts Mr Park forwarded is run by the North Korean government website, Uriminzokkiri, which the South Korean news media regularly cite in their reports.
The New York Times