“Things that go on in year 2011 in Korea make me sad” … the specter of National Security Act

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of a contributed article by a lawyer Lee Gwang-cheol appeared in the <PRESSian> on Dec. 1, 2011 as a part of a special series on National Security Act in Korea 2011. The rationale of the special series is clearly expressed in the editor’s note below. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of original article or with the <PRESSian> and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

Editor’s note. Dec. 1 is the day the National Security Act (NSA) was enacted. NSA that was enacted on this day in 1948 as National Law no.10 has been there for 63 years with several revisions. The evil deeds NSA committed during the sixty three years are quite well known. The criticism that the law turns the clock of human rights, democracy, and national unification backwards is in fact very poignant. Not only UN but even major countries like US recommend the revocation of it.

But, NSA is rampant again in Lee Myung-bak’s government. In this circumstance, NSA Revocation People’s Alliance (People’s Alliance) and NSA Emergency Response Group (Response Group), designating a response week, jointly started an action to stop the abuse of NSA under the slogan <NO! NSA; STOP! NSA> on Dec. 1. In the same line, they contributed a relay of articles on the issue of NSA. Contributions will be published for one week starting from Dec. 1.

“Things that go on in Korea in year 2011 make me sad”

[National Security Act – What is the problem? ①] “The Korean reality that makes us shameful”

#1. “In human history, two people decimated the freedom of thought the most completely; The First Emperor of China who, sparing the books of School of Law, burned all books from all philosophers and scholars and Hitler who, sparing the books allowed by Nazis, burned all books from public libraries. … Right now, I who read <The Communist Manifesto> without fear am happy. (Rhyu Si-min, <Readings of youths> pg.56)”

“Right now, I who read <The Communist Manifesto> without fear am happy.” Those who are in their 40s~50s can fully appreciate this sentence. In times like the Revitalizing Reform (Yushin) and 5th Republic, reading <The Communist Manifesto> required courage. One should have been resolute for the possibility of prison terms just for reading that book. The ‘fear’ that Rhyu Si-min, the leader of The Participation Party, mentioned was not just an issue of idea; it was rather an issue of true existence.

And, the ‘fear’ and ‘happiness’ make a striking contrast. Does the ‘happiness’ still continue? Unfortunately, not. In 2011, Korean court ruled <The Communist Manifesto>, <Marx-Engels Collection> as publications benefiting the enemy. Also, books like the professor Kim Soo-haeng’s <The Capital> translation, <The Study of French Revolution>, <Recognition of Korean History around Liberation>, <Revised Modern Korean History> are all awaiting court’s rulings.

The list of books public security authority confiscated for benefiting the enemy although the court did not rule as such is the more baffling. Representative example is the <Progressive’s Plan to Power> by Cho Kook – Oh Yeon-ho. Reading these books turned out to require courage now. One cannot object that things like these will crucially damage the national stature the president has been professing. If one tags classics of mankind as publications benefiting the enemy and punishes those who read them, President Obama will surely laugh.


People demanding justice based on common sense in the so-called ‘Wangjae-san’ case. ⓒ Newsis 뉴시스

#2. On last Oct. 14th, court sentenced three and half years in prison for a mother of 19-month old daughter for the violation of NSA and took her under custody immediately in court. A 19-month old baby surely needs her mother more than any other time. Did they have compelling reasons to take a mom from her daughter in such a crucial time? The court raised the fact that she had delivered the nationwide election results of college students’ unions to an official of North Korean students’ organization as the reason for such a harsh sentence.

Court ruled this as an espionage crime of handing over a national secret to North Korea. Try “students’ union election result” to internet search sites. They will give you not only the election results for college students’ unions; they will provide you with their inclinations as well. Is this a national secret? They say so. The supreme court ruled “according to NSA Item 2 (na) of Para. 1 of Art. 4, secrets are all facts, things or knowledge of various areas such as politics, economy, society, or culture that will be of benefit to Republic of Korea by keeping them secret or not disclosing them to anti-national organizations. The crucial point here is “all facts, things, or knowledge”.

One thing I want to ask, then, is this; what is not a national secret? Another baffling thing of this ruling is that they see the whole thing problematic after the transfer of power to Lee Myung-bak’s government even though it was done lawfully with the approval of the Ministry of Unification during the former participatory government. This is not the only example. Besides the fact that it denies the Jun. 15th and Oct. 4th joint announcements between South and North Korea, it is very dangerous in that it directly denies the foundation of rule by law by rendering lawful actions of the past into unlawful actions simply with the elapse of time.

For these reasons, they took the mother from her 19-month old daughter, put her into custody in the detention center and let her see her daughter only for 10 minutes a day. And that, not in a space where they can touch and hug with each other but in a place where an acrylic panel separates them in between.

#3. In fact, I am ashamed and sad for the reality that things like these really happen in year 2011 in Korea. A country where reading books can be crimes, an IT power house country which tags the internet search result from a public web portal as a national secret and brands a person a spy for that national secret and takes a mother away from her 19-month old daughter without any special reasons.

These are not the end. In 2011, the list of baffling examples of NSA abuse is endless. In the so called Wangjae-san (mountain) incident, passage after passage, turn after turn, baffling examples abound. This time, the National Information Service (NIS) claimed a supernatural formula such as just five or ten people will take over broadcasting firms or government offices in Incheon area or only five can manage the unification process of all progressive parties.

The account that they coerced depositions of fasting suspects by ordering pizzas and letting them to smell the delivered pizzas was a jackpot with a kind of human touch, making us to rethink that we could have mistaken the real face of NIS. On top of this, the prevailing espionage cases involving North Korean defectors, with the news of NIS’s harsh treatments of those defectors, stinks something fishy.

How come this kind of thing happens? For what reason things that healthy citizens with common sense will feel shameful and sad happen? That’s because of the NSA. To be exact, because of the Lee Myung-bak government’s behavior to promote the fearsome atmosphere by wielding the sword of NSA indiscriminately. The number of detainees from NSA was 39 in 2007; but it climbed to 40 in 2008, 70 in 2009, and 151 in 2010. It is reported that, among all Public Prosecutor Generals in the past, the incumbent one is the first who voiced the eradication of all followers of North Korea and leftists in his inauguration speech.

This is how the <The Communist Manifesto> becomes a publication benefiting the enemy and internet search results become a national secret. And the president Lee Myung-bak professes of national stature and fair society. I am sure he must have dozed a lot during the Korean classes (not English, of course!).

#4. Then, why does the Lee Myung-bak’s government do such shameful things so shamelessly? Their behavior to North Korea gives a little bit of hint. Everyone knows that North Korea is regarded as an anti-national organization against Republic of Korea in NSA. If they want to coexist with North Korea peacefully, they will try to revoke NSA or to avoid it as much as they can. Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun’s governments actually did that.

But this government, from the inception, treated North Korea like a group of thugs. When the expectation that a threat to discontinue the food aid could force North Korea to submit to this government’s policy change turned out to a miscalculation, they adhered to an indifference policy to North Korea claiming that waiting was also a strategy. In the meanwhile, they did not forget to provoke North Korea. In due course, this government’s North Korea policy went bankrupt with Cheonan ship and Yeonpyeong island incidents. They even publicly disgraced themselves while begging to North Korea for apology for the Cheonan ship incident.

Lee Myung-bak government’s confrontational, aggressive policy towards North Korea was inevitably destined to the abuse of NSA. Yearly explosive leap in the number of cases related to NSA has not been just a coincidence. Application of NSA in early days of this government at least showed hints of discretion but, in 2011, it’s indiscretionary and shameless. It all resulted in the enemy benefiting publication decision of <The Communist Manifesto> and <The Capital>, and the national secrecy decision of internet search results. NSA reached a status that threats not only the task of Korean people’s unification but also the foundation of democracy.

#5. To think and to express what one thinks are natural desires human rationality demands. Meanwhile, affection and love to one’s own family are also natural desires human sensibility demands. In a country with stature and dignity, human desires to think and express should not be restrained.

Also, splitting parents and their young child should be allowed only under very exceptional circumstances; it does not require any consideration of national stature or dignity. Is civilized country a special thing? Isn’t a country where its people are treated as humans a civilized country? ‘Human dignity and value’ Art. 10 of our constitution declares is, simply said, an assertion to treat its people humanely.

Then, what is the reality of Republic of Korea we observe in 2011 like? Are people treated humanely? I guess not. There can be many reasons but NSA is surely one of them. Then, what will we do? Do we put up with the damage to our democracy and the confrontation between South and North Koreas while sustaining such a painful and troubling life with NSA still? Or, do we shelve NSA to the museum display and turn our country in a humane place to live?

The answer is self-evident. If we sympathize that NSA is an unjust law that hampers the democracy and unification, we have only one thing to do; revocation of NSA. On that way, let’s meet together and shout ‘NO! NSA; STOP! NSA!’

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