• K Street Eyes: South Korea’s Assault on Democratic Freedoms

    As a global leader and defender of human rights, the United States and its like minded allies at the United Nations must speak out when countries engage in behavior that does not align with our shared values. In recent months, South Korea has been backtracking on democratic reforms and aggressively cracking down on free speech. That’s troubling for a multitude of obvious reasons given the unique links South Korea has shared — and more importantly benefited from — with the free world since the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1950.

    South Korean President Geun-hye Park who is the daughter of General Park Chung-hee, South Korea’s military dictator from 1961 to 1979, now appears to be mirroring some of the dictatorial policies implemented by her father’s military regime.

    In late November 2015, more than 70,000 South Koreans took to the streets to protest repressive government policies that represent a direct assault on freedom of speech in South Korea. These protests targeted the government’s plans to replace independently selected historical textbooks now available to millions of educators in South Korea with government-issued textbooks that offer a one sided view on history. In simple terms, South Korean President Park wants to cleanse the history books of any negative reference to her father’s wartime policies and indoctrinate tens of thousands of young South Koreans into her way of thinking.

    In the spring of 1933, the Nazi government in Germany made up a long list of textbooks they thought should not be read by Germans and school textbooks were rewritten to reflect the government’s way of thinking. History has shown us time and time again, that any infringement on freedom of expression is normally a first step towards greater crackdowns on free speech and a direct assault on human rights.

    Unfortunately South Korea’s assault on freedom of speech in educational textbooks is just the appetizer to a broader assault. On 19 November 2015, South Korean prosecutors indicted South Korean author Park Yu-ha, a professor at Sejong University in Seoul, South Korea. The eminent Professor is being prosecuted for presenting a historical argument based on extensive research that is at variance with the position being promoted publicly by President Geun-hye Park and political allies with ties to her father’s regime.

    South Korea’s assault on democratic freedoms of expressions in the case of South Korean academic Park Yu-ha and any violation of the UN charter on human rights, needs to be brought to the attention of senior policy makers and elected officials.

    While one can appreciate a daughter’s blind love and admiration for her father. One cannot ignore the fact that 70,000 South Korean citizens were forced to take to the streets to protest the government’s decision to require schools to use only state issued history textbooks. That coupled with a defenseless academic being detained by the South Korean security services, shows clear that all is not well in the administration of President Geun-hye Park.

    Some South Korean experts have speculated that President Geun-hye Park is trying to rewrite history to cover up her father’s alleged war crimes. Whatever the unhinged motivations may be for President Park’s direct assault on freedom of speech, Western governments need to show leadership and confront these challenges head on.

    Freedom of speech is the foundation of a vibrant democracy and without it, other fundamental rights soon wither away. Rewriting historical textbooks and detaining academic scholars who do not share our views is a practice we might expect to see in North Korea but certainly not in South Korea. International political and thought leaders need to speak out when South Korea and other budding democracies engage in authoritarian behavior that does not align with the key freedoms that makes democracies tick.

    K Street Eyes

    K Street Eyes is an expert in all things shady and humorous.

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