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UK Journalist to Appeal as Seoul Blocks his Site on N. Korea

  • Associated Press

A British journalist who runs a website that documents North Korean technology issues said Tuesday that he'll appeal a decision by South Korean authorities to block his site for allegedly violating the country's National Security Law.

Martyn Williams, whose North Korea Tech website has been blocked in South Korea for almost two weeks, said the site does not violate the security law, which bans praising, sympathizing or cooperating with North Korea. The website "doesn't seek to glorify or support North Korea,'' Williams, who is based in San Francisco, said in an email.

Williams has written about issues ranging from cellphone usage in North Korea and its satellite technology, to a little-known computer operating system developed by North Koreans. He said much of the content on his website is based on announcements made by the North and South Korean governments and reports in the media.

The South's Korea Communications Standards Commission confirmed Tuesday that it decided on March 24 to block the site because it allegedly violated the security law. The censorship body blocks websites deemed illegal or harmful to society, such as pornography, gambling and North Korea's official outlets.

The National Security Law has its origins in the founding of South Korea in 1948 as a bastion of anti-communism on the doorstep of the Soviet-backed North. Critics say the law raises questions about freedom of expression in the democratic country.

Many of the readers of North Korea Tech are researchers, journalists, diplomats, academics and others interested in North Korea. Since it was launched in 2010, the website has been frequently cited by both Korean and international media, including South Korea's Yonhap News Agency and Dong-A Ilbo daily newspaper. The website gets about 20,000 monthly visits.

Since late March, users accessing North Korea Tech from South Korea have been redirected to a warning page saying it is ``legally'' blocked due to "illegal or harmful information.''

Sohn Jiwon, a lawyer with the Seoul-based Korea Internet Transparency Report, said the blocking of the website highlights how South Korean authorities sometimes censor content that does not threaten the country's democracy. "As a result, journalists' right to know about North Korea-related issues is being violated,'' she said.