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S. Korea Reviews Controversial Security Law

  • Jason Strother
  • Malte Kollenberg

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert is out of the hospital and recovering a week after he was slashed across the face and wrist by a knife-wielding assailant. Now authorities say the attacker might have also violated a decades-old anti-Communism law. But, some rights groups say the attack shows how the law mainly limits freedom of speech without improving public safety.

Suspect Kim Ki-jong was immediately arrested after attacking the American ambassador.

Following a search of the 55-year-old’s home and office, South Korean police say they found pro-North Korean propaganda, which is illegal under the country’s National Security Law.

That law concerns Park Kun-young of the civic group People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.

“It is a shame that this attack, carried out by one violent man, is bringing attention to other activists who do not share the South Korean government’s thoughts on North Korea and might use the National Security Law to go after them now,” Park said.

The late 1940s law was created to stop the spread of communist North Korea’s influence in the south.

Today, rights advocates say it mainly limits freedom of speech and sends innocent people to jail.

In 2012 Park Jung-geun was found guilty of violating the National Security Law and given a suspended sentence.

Last year, a higher court overturned that decision, declaring Park innocent.

The 26-year-old photographer says he was only trying to make a joke about North Korea on Twitter.

“I think North Korean society, the way its leaders are worshiped is like a dark comedy. I only re-tweeted a message that was originally from a pro-North Korea website. I just thought it was funny,” he said.

Park says he now thinks twice before writing on social media.

But there are still many others who support the law, saying the fight against North Korea continues.

Suh Jung-kap of the National Action Campaign says the attack on the American ambassador proves that the government needs to crack down on pro-North Korean elements here even harder.

“North Korea is the world’s worst dictatorship. They launched attacks in 2010 and killed 46 of our soldiers. I do not think issues like the economy and human rights are as important as unifying the nation,” said Suh Jung-kap.

While many critics do not dispute that North Korea remains dangerous, they say the ambassador attack reveals that the law does little to keep anyone safe.

That is one reason why activist Park Kun-young says it should be abolished.

“Of course security is important and the country needs laws to stop spies who work for the enemy. However, the National Security Law does not do that, it only stops people from expressing their opinions," Park said.

As South Korean investigators look for North Korean links to the ambassador's assault, Pyongyang praised the attack but maintains it had nothing to do with it.