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Block on North Korean Web Site Foils Net Users
South Korea's 'unconstitutional' national security laws provoke calls for freedom of information
Lee Seung Hun (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2004-11-17 14:57 (KST)   
A screenshot of Kim Il Sung Open University's Web site, which began Internet broadcasts in September. The Ministry of Information and Communication is taking measures to block this site.
©2004 KISOpenUni
This article was translated from Korean. -- Ed.

"To lose weight, eat reasonably at dinner and stand up watching television."
"Pumpkin milk is the ideal drink to prevent obesity, and soy beans are a good food for losing weight."


This advice might seem a little strange to us, but it originates from North Korea. The above came to light in August on the North Korean Internet Web site, "North Korea Info Bank," which we now cannot access in South Korea. When these secrets were revealed, the unfamiliar North Korean expressions and North Korean diet methods drew much interest from Southern Internet users.

The local South Korean press, too, cited North Korea Info Bank in reports about North Korean diet methods. At the time, the Web site was looked upon favorably as a way for North and South Korean Internet users to broaden their understanding of one another through an exchange of information on the Internet.

Three months later, however, North Korea Info Bank now finds itself categorized as a "pro-North Korean Web site." Moreover, accused of being in violation of the National Security Law, the site has been blocked in South Korea since Nov. 12. This is because the National Police Agency, National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) ordered Internet service providers like Korea Telecom and Hanaro Telecom to block connections to the site.

Three-month roller coaster for site

Thirty-one North Korea-related Web sites were blocked this time around, including Minjok Tongshin, Chosun Sinbo, Chosun Music, North Korea Info Bank, DPRK Stamp and Uriminzokkiri. The MIC has also placed a block on the Web site of Kim Il Sung Open University, which just opened on Nov. 9.

Among these sites, which mostly use overseas servers in places like the United States, China and Japan, there are some very politically colored sites for publicizing the North Korean system, but there are others that stop at simply publicizing North Korean companies or provide information about the North.

A screenshot from the North Korea-related site "Korea Book Center," which has been blocked in South Korea by the Ministry of Information and Communication.
©2004 OMNI
Of these, some are media Web sites like U.S.-based Minjok Tongshin and Japan-based Chosun Sinbo and KCNA. The information uploaded on these sites is used by South Korean media for quotes about the latest news concerning North Korea.

Other sites, like the North Korean book site "Korea Book Center," the Korea Stamp Corporation site "DPRK Stamp" and email service provider Silibank included some political content, but the sites mostly consisted of commercial content.

Besides these, others were the homepages of overseas Korean organizations like Mintongryeon (in Japan) and Korea Network; Hantongryeon had spent years labeled an "anti-state organization," yet in October, 146 of its members were able to officially visit South Korea.

MIC claims its following the law, but...

These sites have been blocked because of Article 53 of the current Telecommunication Business Law. According to the law, Web sites with content that is either harmful to children or in violation of the National Security Law are categorized as illegal communications, and the Minister of Information and Communications could order them blocked following deliberations by the Information Communication Ethics Committee (ICEC).

A MIC official said, "Instances of violations of the National Security Law are designated illegal communications under Item 8 of Para. 1 Art. 53 of the Telecommunication Business Law... The Web sites which were categorized as pro-North Korean by the police and NIS under suspicion of violating the National Security Law have been blocked according to legal procedures following deliberations by the ICEC." This means that there were no problems with the measure under current law.

Debate, nevertheless, is heating up. Many point out that for an administrative body like MIC to hand down a legal judgment like "the sites violate the National Security Law" is unconstitutional, and it has arbitrarily limited the people's basic rights, like the right to information and freedom of expression.

"There are problems with the National Security Law itself, but when no final decision has been made by a court of law on whether each site violates the National Security Law, for the National Police Agency, NIS and MIC to censor sites and mark them "illegal" without the authority to do so was pre-censorship, which is clearly banned by the Constitution," said lawyer Song Ho Chang. "This is a violation of the people's basic rights, like the right to information and freedom of expression."

"As there were procedural problems with this matter, one could consider administrative litigation," he added.

Jinbo Network's Oh Byeong Il said, "Word is that this was nothing more than the police and NIS making up a list of pro-North Korean sites and the MIC following through with their request to block access, but the MIC, through ICEC deliberations, virtually judged the sites 'illegal.' As a clear example of an administrative body handing down a legal judgment, there is grounds to call it unconstitutional."

'Unauthorized "illegal" stamp by police, NIS, MIC unconstitutional'

Among Internet users, too, many are skeptical of both the necessity of the embargo and its effectiveness.

"I saw media reports that the MIC would soon block the homepage of Kim Il Sung Open University, so I stopped by to take a look at it, and I was doubtful many Internet users would sympathize with the site," said college student Lee Hyeon Su, 22. "It's not like its some ancient myth, and because the lectures just deify Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, nobody will accept the Juche (self-reliance) ideology by listening to them."

In particular, Lee said, "The Internet's character is that information is never instilled in the user unilaterally. On the contrary, among Internet users, it's likely to give rise to criticism, allowing one to get a sense of the weak points of North Korea's unilateral propaganda."

Student Kim Gyeong Sik, 23, said, "One need only go to the North Korea Materials Center on the 6th floor of the Gwanghwamun Post Office (in Seoul) to see all sorts of materials related to North Korea, including the Rodong Sinmun, which is the representative media for propagating the Juche ideology, so I don't understand blocking it only on the Internet."

Kim said he doesn't think the barriers will work. "The best way to successfully block 'North Korea's ideological attacks,' as some media call them, would be by clearly opening things up and allowing Internet users to criticize and debate," he said.
Do you think the "North Korea Human Rights Act" will harm stability in the region?  (2004-10-02 ~ 2004-12-24)
Yes, the U.S. is attempting to overthrow a sovereign nation's government.
No, alleviating the suffering of millions is the primary objective.
Thumbnail photo of North Korean child at a computer by Martyn Williams, NKZone.
©2004 OhmyNews

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