“Historical Distortion” Tests South Korea’s Efforts for Freedom of Speech

Seoul — The 1980 uprising in Gwangju stands out as one of the most proud moments in the history of the battle for democracy in South Korea. Thousands of civilians went out to the streets to protest the military dictatorship, and hundreds were shot down by security forces. The bloody case is described in the textbook as “Gwangju democratization movement. “

But the right-wing far-right provided an alternative, highly inflammatory view of what happened. They say Gwangju was not a heroic sacrifice for democracy, but a “riot” caused by North Korean Communists who infiltrated the protests.

Such conspiracy theories are not taken seriously by most historians and are rapidly spreading in South Korea. Violent modern history — Amplified online.

President Moon Jae-in’s ruling party has released a legal slate with the aim of counteracting false stories about certain delicate historical topics, including Gwangju. His supporters say he protects the truth. Defenders of freedom of speech and Moon’s conservative enemies have accused the president of using censorship and history as political weapons.

Democracy around the world I’m having a hard time dealing with Discuss the corrosive impact of social media and disinformation on politics, whether to draw a line, and where to draw a line Fake news and free speech.. In the United States and elsewhere, the debate focuses on the power of social media companies, criticized on the left to spread hatred, False conspiracy theory, And on the right Ban users like Donald J. Trump..

However, few democracies are trying to crack down on speeches to the extent South Korea is considering, and will efforts to squelch false information lead to broader censorship or encourage authoritarian ambitions? Discussion is ongoing.

“Whether I am right or wrong should be determined through free public debate, which is the driving force of democracy,” said Jee Man-won, a key supporter of the theory of North Korea’s involvement in Gwangju. Said. “Instead, the government uses that power to determine history.”

The debate over which messages to allow and which to suppress is often about the history and identity of the country. In the United States, there is intensifying debate about the effects of racism and slavery in the past and present, and how to teach those topics in schools. Proponents of the new law say they are doing what Germany did in attacking the Holocaust denial lies.

South Korea has long been proud of its commitment to free speech, but South Korea Against the mainstream It can have serious consequences.

Historical issues such as cooperation with Japanese colonialists and the massacre of civilians during the war have divided the country for decades. Defamation It is a criminal crime. Under the bill promoted by Mr. Tsuki’s party, Gwangju and “Comfort women—Korean sex slaves of Japan’s World War II forces — can also be a crime.

In cracking down on false alarms, Moon is fulfilling his campaign promise to give Gwangju its legitimate position in history. But by criminalizing the so-called “historical distortion”, he is also stepping into political minefields.

The Korean Historical Society and 20 other historical research institutes used the threat of criminals by Mr. Moon’s progressive government, which showed its position as a defender of democratic values ​​secured by sacrifices like Gwangju last month. Penalties for determining history that issued a joint statement warning that they are actually weakening.

A law Those who spread “falsehoods” about Gwangju are required to be sentenced to up to five years in prison, sponsored by Mr. Moon’s party, which went into effect in January.Also submitted by party members building In May, up to 10 years’ imprisonment will be required for those who admire Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

The bill will set up a panel of experts on “History of Truth” to detect distortions in the interpretation of sensitive historical topics, including, and correct the order. Killing civilians Between the Korean War and human rights abuses under past military dictators.

yet Another bill The party considers “denying the facts” or “distorting or tampering with the facts” to be a crime for much more recent events. The sinking of the ferry Sewol In 2014, hundreds of students died and a disaster humiliated the conservative government that was in power at the time.Conservative lawmakers submitted as part of them Invoice Will punish those who deny that North Korea sank last month Korean naval vessel In 2010.

“This is a populist approach to history, appealing to widespread anti-Japanese sentiment to strengthen their political power,” said Kim Jong-in, chairman of the Korean History Association, referring to a bill on Japanese colonial rule. Said. “Who intends to study colonial history if their findings are judged in court?”

A family of protesters in Gwangju welcomed Mr. Moon’s attempt to punish the providers of fake information that despised them.

“They are blaming us as the minions of North Korean agents, as if it wasn’t too painful to lose their brothers and parents,” said Cho, the nephew of the late Cho Pius, a Catholic priest in Gwangju.・ Youngdae said. He uprised and testified about the killing a few years later. “They abused freedom of expression and insulted our injuries.”

Cho, who is also a priest, said the survivors of Gwangju had been suffering for too long while people like Gee disseminated false information about the massacre. “We need a Korean version of the Holocaust Act to punish those who beautify Gwangju’s atrocities. European countries Holocaust denial,” He said.

According to a recent survey, the biggest conflict that divides Korean society is between progressives and conservatives, both eager to shape and censor history and textbooks in their favor.

A conservative dictator who was once arrested, Tortured And It has been executed Dissidents in the name of the National Security Act, whose criminal offense is to “praise, incite or propagate” actions that are considered sympathetic to Pro-North Korean or Communism.

Today’s conservatives emphasize the positive aspects of their heroes, such as South Korean authoritarian founder Syngman Rhee and the military junta Park Chung-hee, and their success in fighting communism and liberating the country. I want a history to do. Of poverty after the Korean War.

Progressivists often emphasize the contradictions of a conservative dictatorship, such as the killings in Gwangju.They also blame what they call “Chinil” Pro-Japanese Koreans they say collaboration Together with colonial leaders, they prospered by rebranding themselves as an anti-communist crusade during the Cold War.

Still, Gee says some progressives have a communist view that threatens the country’s democratic values.

Much of this debate takes place online, and some of the most partisan podcasters and YouTubers have as many viewers as there are television shows across the country.

“Ideally, conspiracy theories and irrational ideas should be rejected or ignored through the public opinion market,” said Park Sang-Hoon, chief political scientist at the political power plant, a Seoul-based civil society group. “. “But they are part of the political agenda here.” Mainstream media “helps them gain legitimacy,” he said.

During the Gwangju Uprising, several journalists were able to slip through the city’s military cableway. They found their mother mourning the body of her loved one. “Citizen’s armyCarried a weapon commanded by the police station when the people on the sidewalk chanted “Down in a dictatorship!” Protesters dug into government buildings for their final fateful standoffs against the military.

For many Koreans, Gwangju protesters have won. Students from all over the country followed in their footsteps and confronted the military junta.

Chun Doo-hwan, who had seized power in a military coup before the opposition, accused “malicious riots” and “communist instigators” of violence. In the late 1990s he was convicted of sedition and rebellion in connection with a coup and murder in Gwangju. (He was later forgiven.)

“Thanks to the sacrifice in Gwangju, our democracy survived and was able to rise again,” Moon said when he visited the city shortly after the 2017 election. Gwangju’s spirit was “reborn” in public protests. Expulsion His predecessor, Park Chung-hee (daughter of Park Chung-hee), warned against “unbearable” attempts to “distort and despise” the 1980 uprising.

However, Mr. Gee said his experience of expressing the historical views of non-Korean people should be a warning to Koreans. In 2002, he published a newspaper ad claiming that Gwangju was a covert operation in North Korea.

He was then handcuffed to Gwangju, imprisoned for 100 days for defamation, and finally suspended.

Since then, he has published 10 books on Gwangju and has fought more defamation charges. Critics have accused him of forging a wild conspiracy theory, but his view is as follows:

“I wouldn’t have come this far if they hadn’t treated me like in 2002,” he said.

“Historical Distortion” Tests South Korea’s Efforts for Freedom of Speech

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