South Korea Heading Towards Dictatorship
The numbers differ but there are about 30 countries now in a dictatorship government. A dictatorship is the antithesis of a democratic government. In the former, one person or group has total judicial, social and military control over its citizens. People living under a dictatorial rule have no rights. They have no freedom of speech, or travel or even of having a certain mindset. Yet, they also support their dictator because they have been conditioned by a controlled media to see their ruler as invincible and incapable of making mistakes. The Middle East, South America and Europe have countries ruled by a dictatorial government. In Asia, North Korea is one but South Korea is not far behind.
The economic development of South Korea has been phenomenal in the past few decades; what is less known is that it relied on China for help and also bestowed special favors to family conglomerates like Samsung, which is now a concrete testament to the country’s soaring economy.
But in between, South Korea has been leaning towards dictatorial rule. Although it is officially a democracy, recent actions by its government contradict the principle of “rule by the people.” Freedom of the citizenry is being suppressed, as evidenced in the following incidents:
South Korea to Have Only One History Textbook
In October this year, Pres. Park’s administration decreed that the country would have only one state-manufactured history textbook to be used in its schools. More than half of the populace objected to the move and two anti-government rallies with almost 80,000 people joining were held one after the other. The police quelled these protests by spraying the participants with a mix of high-pressured water and liquid tear gas, causing an elderly man to suffer from cerebral hemorrhage. Instead of listening to their views, Park likened the demonstrators to ISIS members and declared that she is preparing a policy that would disallow the wearing of masks during rallies.
A study has shown that a single unified textbook is not the norm in democratic countries. Only North Korea, Bangladesh and some Muslim countries are doing it. Seoul’s proposed action earned it a scathing critique from The New York Times which wrote that “The biggest risk to South Korea’s reputation abroad, however, is not economic but political, chiefly Ms. Park’s heavy-handed attempts to rewrite history and quash dissent.”
Japanese Journalist Faces Trial and Possible Jail Term for Defamation
For writing about Pres. Park’s conspicuous absence during the critical hours of the MV Sewol ferry disaster in April 2014, Tatsuya Kato, bureau chief of the Seoul office of Sankei Shimbun, was charged and indicted for online defamation of Pres. Park’s image. Kato had cited an article published in the Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo that quoted hearsay on Park’s whereabouts at that time. Strangely enough, the original source of the rumor was not prosecuted.
Prior to the charge, Kato was not allowed to leave the country for 8 months. No country, organization or government high official defended Seoul’s actions. A UN spokesperson went on to say that “”The United Nations respects the freedom of expression as part of our defense of universal human rights.” Park herself meddled in the judicial process, ignoring the principle of separation of powers inherent in a democracy.
As of press time, Mr. Kato was cleared of the charges against him, much to the dismay of the prosecutors who have said they might appeal the verdict. Although advocacy group Reporters Without Borders welcomed the acquittal, it added, “However, the need to modify the defamation law remains.”
South Korean Professor Park Yu-ha Indicted
Sejong University professor Park Yu-ha was indicted by her own government for writing a book about the truth behind the comfort women story. She had extensively studied the long history of this controversial issue and found that there were many inconsistencies, half-truths and outright lies that tended to unfairly malign Japan. A scholar herself, Yu-ha’s book is seen as academic work, which is based on facts and objectivity. But South Korean authorities thought otherwise. Scholars and writers in Japan and the United States protested against the curtailment of academic freedom.
Other victims of such oppression are Oh Seon-hwa, a Korean-born Japanese citizen and academic at Takushoku University in Japan. She was denied entry to South Korea for her anti-Korean stance in Japan.
United Nations Rebukes South Korea Over Prison Sentences for Defamation
The UN Human Rights Council has called on the South Korean administration to stop the imprisonment of its critics, saying “The sentence of imprisonment for defamation is never an appropriate response no matter the seriousness of the claims.” Several countries and civil rights groups have spoken up against South Korea’s suppression of freedom of expression.
Oppression and Political Cleansing Robust in South Korea
From being ruled by military generals to civilian presidents, South Korean is a rich breeding ground for oppression of freedom of speech and political cleansing. And with the current president being the daughter of former president and military general Park Chung-hee, notorious for his clampdown on dissenters of his administration, it’s not difficult to grasp why Pres. Park is following in the footsteps of her un-mourned father.
Yet, Park should realize before it’s too late that her propensity for dictatorial actions such as the takeover of history textbooks with the goal of revising the truth and her indictment of critics are threatening the democratic foundation on which South Korea stands. She should take a page from the history of her country’s strongmen and how they ended up and learn from them.