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January 03 2014

South Korean Lawmaker Proposes Bill Denying Right to Counsel for Anti-State Criminals

A ruling party lawmaker, Kim Jin-tae proposed a bill [ko] that either denies or greatly limits the right to counsel for criminals who are accused of committing ‘anti-state activities'. It has already drawn harsh criticism from civil rights lawyers who call it ‘utterly unconstitutional idea’ [ko] and sparked heated debates in major South Korean online venues. Vice chairman of the Lawyers for a Democratic Society's Judicial Committee, Lee Jae-hwa (@jhohmylawtweeted [ko] as below. 

[After linking to news article [ko] about the bill] Kim Jin-tae is totally delusional. What would be his next step? He may even propose a bill legalizing torture.

January 02 2014

South Korean Authorities Discredit Dissenting Voices as ‘Not-Real’ News

Who gets to decide what is real news or not? It seems the South Korean government thinks they have enough authority to do so. 

The country's media regulation authorities have discredited several news programs, calling them “not real news”. Among many programs that found themselves a target were Newstapa, an investigative news site which made groundbreaking revelations in 2013; Gobal News, a young news site runs by an independent citizen-funded station, just like Newstapa; and several news shows aired by the Christian Broadcasting System (CBS) radio.  

The Korean Communications Commission (KCC) released its report on the media landscape on December 30 and disqualified some as “non-real news” (or “not legit” news) and vowed [ko] to send warnings to those broadcasters in order to push them to make major adjustments in their formats. The government's explanation was that it is illegal for special-purpose stations (i.e. traffic or religion channels) to adopt the form of “news, news anchors, and journalists” and for local channels (which air in a specific province or city) to report on general, state-level social issues – in other words, they can't use the format of news when covering any subjects that are deemed outside of their area of coverage.

Journalists and media workers lambasted the decision, commenting [ko] that the current journalism environment has turned as hostile as that of the 1980s when notorious military dictator Chun Doo-hwan brutally cracked down on any forms of dissent and stifled journalism.

A media industry veteran and currently investigative reporter at Newstapa, Choi Kyung-young (@kyung0), wrote [ko] as below. Newstapa (English name: Korea Center for Investigative Journalism) made stunning feats of journalism last year by disclosing critical facts about the election manipulation scandal and elite tax haven scheme, but was discredited by authorities as “not real news”. 

[...] 어디서 유사언론학을 들었는지 모르겠으나 “정부가 무엇이 보도인지를 규정하면 그 나라에는 보도는 사라지고 선전만 남게된다”

[...] I dont know where they learnt about the definition on “non-legit news”, but bear in mind that once the government gets to decide what is news or not, news reports in that nation disappears and only propaganda is left. 

CBS (Christian Broadcasting System, not related to the US media company of the same name) is a non-profit organization that has a history of being the first independent radio station in the country. Although it has a Christian background, some of CBS's news programs have been praised for unbiased reports.

One of the hosts for CBS's news program, Kim Eung-gyo, wrote that the only comparable crackdown on media to this current one is the 1980′s shutdown when the military regime forced CBS to shutter by merging them and other independent broadcasters with state-run TV. The station reopened seven years later:

As suspected, they provoked CBS. They branded these programs – CBS News, Jeong Kwan-yong's Current Issues, Kim Hyun-jeong's News Show – “not real news” done without proper permission. It seems like the ghost of [military dictator] Chun Doo-hwan – who halted CBS which has aired news since 1954 - has returned to this era.

Media critic Yoo Chang-seon (‏@changseon) criticized [ko] authorities’ guidelines as outdated:

방송통신위원회의 이러한 발상, 참 낡고 낡았다 하는 생각이 듭니다. 종교채널이든 경제채널이든 교통채널이든, 그 방송을 듣고 보는 사람들 모두 세상 돌아가는 일을 알아야 합니다. 어느 분야 하나 서로 연결되지 않는 것이 없는 세상입니다[...]

Korea Communications Commission's decision reveals that their thinking cannot be more outdated. Whether it is a religious channel, an economic channel or a traffic channel, the audience should be able get information on what is happening now in the world by watching those channels. Moreover, everything, every industry are closely connected with each other[...]

Image by Free Press Pics (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Image by Free Press Pics (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Gobal news and Newstapa both belong to RTV, [ko] an independent TV station that heavily depends on citizen contributions and donations. RTV tweeted as below right after the news about “not-real news” broke. Gobal news revealed [ko] that while the move was made against them, the government provides generous benefits to TV stations run by major newspapers who strongly support the government and its policies:

This signals the start of muzzling media critical of the government. It means that they will allow people to watch only the network TVs and those TV stations run by conservative newspaper companies [referring to Chosun, Joonang and Donga Newspaper]

RTV's journalists said that they will resist against [ko] authorities’ guidelines, and many citizens expressed the same. Pyo Chang-won, a former professor at the National Police University and now influential talk show host, tweeted as below. 

CBS radio and its program “Kim Hyun-jeong's News Show” have played the role of real journalism program by delivering facts and sharp analyses to audiences. I fully support and want to encourage them, and every fiber of my body will be resisting against the KCC's anachronistic oppression of the media – which would be more befitting of a dictatorial era. Cheer up. 

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December 31 2013

South Korean Pres. Vows Pre-emptive Strikes on Social Media Rumors

Is South Korea government gearing up toward social media censorship? The latest official remark by President Park (full transcript [ko]) had Korean net users worried. Park, addressing “those rumors spreading via social media”, said “if the government let these things happen, it will bring chaos nationwide” and added “bear in mind that the authorities need to react fast and aggressively, and preemptively against those groups trying to distort the situations”. Many twitter users voiced concerns and pointed out the fact (such as @ppsskr's tweet [ko] which has been retweeted over 500 times) that the government bodies sent out over 24 million tweets to tip the scale in favor of Park in the latest presidential election.

December 28 2013

South Korea: Reason Behind Movie ‘The Attorney's Box Office Smash

South Korean movie ‘The Attorney’ which depicts the early life of ex-President Roh who started as a civil rights lawyer resisting against dictatorial regimes, has drawn over 4 million admissions in just ten days of screening. Movie critics even comment [ko] that its popularity in Korea is more explosive than that of Hollywood blockbuster ‘Avatar’ which made a huge hit in the country. Prominent culture critic Chin Jung-kwon (@unheim) explains via Twitter that the current administration and its multiple political scandals have ironically helped the movie by inspiring people to take interest in democratic values.

It is hard for this sort of film to make a big-time (commercial) success, but the government has paved the way for public’s explosive responses to it. While movie ‘May 18’ (which is about the 80s democratic movement) have failed to re-summon the old slogan of ‘Democracy’, this movie was able to gain success as the government taught people that you should not be treating that old value as outdated.

PHOTOS: 100,000 South Koreans Protest Election Scandal, Labor Clampdown

A series of different protests as well as a mass strike organized by labor groups rocked South Korea on December 28, 2013. 

From noon till late at night, about 100,000 citizens and labor workers angrily demonstrated against the current government's election manipulation scandal and clampdowns on labor groups as well as moves toward privatization of the nation's railway system, though the administration denies such claims. Some observers are calling the outbreak of demonstrations proof that public anger has nearly “reached its boiling point” [ko].

Although it failed to reach its goal of one million participants, more than 100,000 [ko] were reported to be present till late afternoon. Although police estimate the total number barely reached 20,000, some disputed the number by pointing out that 13,000 riot police were mobilized for the event. 

One image making the rounds online purportedly of the strike turned out to actually be from 2010. Nevertheless, plenty of dramatic photos showing the scale of the main protest in Seoul Plaza circulated the web:

These citizens were not able to enter the plaza as a wall of police bus blocked their way. So instead, the plaza's surrounding roads were fully packed with these people. 

It is hard to guess the real scale of the protest against railway privatization by merely looking at photos. But I will post these three photos, which show protesters who are “in” the Plaza. Please take into account that these are only 70 percent of the total participants. 

Seoul Plaza is already fully packed. 

This is a photo of the No. 6 exit of the City Hall subway station [which leads to the Seoul Plaza]

Though labor unions overwhelmingly counted the largest participation, various non-labor groups also hosted minor protests today, including students, lawyers, media workers [ko] and a particularly unique group, the newly launched KOCA (Korean Online Communities Alliance) [ko], an association of the nation's major online community sites.

We are Not Fine” movement-themed protest (from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.) 

In Seoul, Daejeon, Changwon and Pusan, young protesters, especially students, took turns standing on stage and spelling out “the reasons why they can't be okay” [ko] from 12 p.m. to roughly around 3 p.m. 

A high school girl said some students of Gaepo High School may get reprimanded for posting hand-written posters. She said “we will be feeling ‘fine’ only after expressing our thoughts”. 

Flash mobs (at 3 p.m.)

Flash mobs of citizens singing the revolutionary anthem “Do you hear the people sing?” from the musical “Les Misérables” were held in Seoul, Pusan, Gwangju, Daejeon and Daegu. Here is a video of a flash mob which took place near the Yonsei University in Seoul:

Civil rights lawyers’ protest (from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.)

Civil rights lawyers held a protest at 2 p.m. at Bosingak Bell Pavilion, and around 3 p.m. they marched towards the Seoul Plaza.

Under the slogan of “From the courtroom to the streets” and “There is no injustice that wins the justice”, these lawyers are gathering at Bosingak to call for democracy. This shows how far our democracy and common sense have fallen. 

Mass strike by labor groups (from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.)

Before joined by other groups, labor unions held a fierce demonstration at Seoul Plaza against the government's decision to crack down on fired railway workers and labor leaders.

I give them a round of applause for their strong alliance – many groups, even KLUC [Korea Labor Union Congress] have joined, calling out “We will protect our railway system by having a general strike by Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.”

(as of 2:57 p.m.) The Construction Labor Union is marching to Seoul Plaza from Youngpung Bookstore. I can't see where their line ends.

Main rally

A main demonstration was scheduled to take place around 4 p.m., but Seoul Plaza was already packed with protesters from around 2 p.m.

The photo on the left shows Seoul City Hall Plaza at 1:30 p.m. and the right is taken at 2:55 p.m. Now there is no room for extra feet.

The protest continued into the night.

Photos of Colossal Protests in South Korea

Several ten thousands have gathered at Seoul Plaza (as of 3 pm) to protest against the South Korean government's election manipulation scandal and the latest clampdowns on labor groups. The numbers are rapidly growing and the protest will continue throughout the day. Aiming 1 million Koreans to participate in ‘the December 28th General Strike', a detailed schedule [ko] of a series of protests held by different groups in major cities across the country has been widely shared in South Korean online venues in last few days. There will soon be an extensive Global Voices coverage on this unprecedentedly large-scale event with multiple layers to it.

The December 28 General Strike (and protest) against the fraudulent election is being held at the City Hall Plaza, now as of 3:22 pm. 

Actually it can't be said people are ‘in’ the Seoul Plaza. Even the nearby road is packed with people.

December 27 2013

South Korean Election Scandal Ironically Brought Religions Together

Opposition against the current administration's election manipulation scandal grows stronger every day, even enough to inspire conservative Protestant Christian groups to join the protest movement [ko] following the trails of Catholic leaders and Buddhist monks. On Christmas, this rare scene took place; in front of a Christmas tree which stood in the Jogye Buddhist temple, leaders from different religious groups held a joint prayer meeting/service lamenting the current political situation and denouncing the government bodies' systemic interference on the latest presidential election. South Korean net users in major online venues shared this running joke; President Park has achieved something that no other previous heads of the state were able to pull off– the ‘grand slam of unifying the three major religions‘ [ko] (of South Korea) for a shared purpose.

In front of a Christmas tree, at the Jogye temple where the Buddha(‘s statues/relics) are kept, held a joint religious service demanding the government to halt clampdowns on railway workers and labor groups. This truly is a scene of ‘grand unification'.

December 24 2013

South Korean Military Bans ‘Arirang', Country's Iconic and Beloved Song

South Korean Military is infamous for banning books, films and songs which they find ‘controversial’ or ‘subversive’ and their recent decision to ban the nation's most beloved and historically important songs ‘Arirang’ (which even has the famed nickname of ‘unofficial national anthem of Korea‘) met with fierce backlash. The military explains it was because Arirang's sad tune is ‘too depressing‘ [ko] to be played in the army. However, one journalist lashed out [ko] that such decision demeans ‘the song's rich history of empowering and consoling the oppressed and mobilizing the grassroots'. As a sign of protest, South Koreans living abroad sung Arirang together [ko] during their latest demonstrations held across five different countries against the presidential election manipulation scandal

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South Korea: Brutal Crackdown by 4000 Police is Epic Failure

On 22 December 2013, over 4,000 South Korean riot police stormed the headquarter of the nation's 2nd largest trade union center– an unprecedented event in the country's post-dictatorship history which shows how determined the current regime is in clamping down on labor and democratic organizations.

It was not only the sheer scale of the crackdown which surprised the people, but also these three facts that further enraged the already furious South Korean net users: the police break-in was done without search warrant [ko]; a progressive newspaper building's facilities have been damaged along the way; and police obstructed a peaceful protest that citizens held in support of these labor workers.

Despite making a scene such as the photos below show, police have failed to capture their targets who are accused of leading the latest rail workers’ protests and were thought to be hidden in the building. Now the Dec 22 police crackdown is already remembered as an ‘epic failure [ko]‘, generating considerable mockery [ko] online. Here are tweets shared widely by Korean net users.

The current regime dispatched several thousand police to capture a handful of labor workers. It shows how desperate and fearful they are about the current situation. It is just a year since they grabbed power, but what we see now are the typical symptoms of a lame-duck regime.

You journalists need to know this. This building happens to be also a place shared by the Kyunghyang Newspaper [*note: Nation's top progressive media outlet vocally criticizing the current administration]. Although we are thankful to you guys for covering this news, please document the fact that this building is where your fellow journalists stay. And protest with us!

[summary of what happened] 1. They broke into that place, claiming they were looking for their wanted men. But they were not there to begin with. 2. If they had warrants, they could be able to make excuses (about their forced entrance), but actually it turns out their warrant request was denied. 3. Then yet again, they obstructed ‘legal’ protests. 4. Later, it was caught on camera that these riot police used pepper spray on citizens. This is a proclamation of war against the people.

Once tweets of police's violent clampdown went viral online, many citizens in the city joined to fight with these struggling labor union workers. @sinbi2010 reported [ko] that over 20 thousand citizens gathered voluntarily within few hours and clashed with police. Below are photos of the citizens’ clash with the police later that day.

<Urgent! SOS (distress signal)> We need to besiege the Park Junior's army. [referring to President Park Geun-hye who is a daughter of ex-president Park Chung-hee] @kyhal55: Please everybody come out. Please, citizens come out. 

(on 5:03 pm) Police have blocked citizens who are moving in the direction of the Kyunghyang newspaper building. Now they are chanting ‘Go away you violent police’ and confronting them.

Police now face legal issues [ko] ahead as civic groups and human rights lawyers are preparing for a package of lawsuits.

Police had no search warrant for the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). An arrest warrant is not legally sufficient for them to break into a place after tearing down locked doors. Moreover, legally speaking, the fact that police broke into the building shared by KCTU and the Kyunghyang newspaper by destroying their facilities, constitutes a felony of home invasion.

December 21 2013

Photos of South Koreans’ Candlelight Rallies in New York, Paris, London

South Koreans living abroad have held candlelight vigils in New York, Paris, London and Berlin throughout this week, accusing the government bodies’ manipulation of the latest presidential election. More protests are planned in various major cities around the world next week. Follow @OverseasCandle for updates. 

South Koreans’ protest in New York City, on the night of December 20:  

After having held overseas candlelight rallies in Paris, Berlin (earlier this week), we went to Manhattan. About 100 people have participated. Please support us!

This is the scene of the overseas candlelight vigil in New York City. Such a touching moment! 

A candlelight rally in Paris, France, on December 20: 

This is a photo of overseas candlelight rally in Paris. 

I am uploading a picture of Paris candlelight rally here. Please specify it as ‘Paris candlelight rally by citizens’ when you share it. 

A protest in London on December 21: 

This is the photo of London's protest which was held under the slogan of ‘We Want Our Democracy Back'. Peoples’ raincoats and umbrellas show the weather here in London.

We, who ‘are not fine’ (about things happening in South Korea), have gathered in this rainy and windy day. What have made us ‘not okay'? The answer is in the photo. 

South Korea: Class-action Suit Against Key Players of Election Manipulation

Marking a year after the latest presidential election tainted with allegations of political tampering, attorney Han Woong, together with 610 plaintiffs, filed a civil lawsuit [ko] against those who are allegedly responsible for the election manipulation scandal. Han accused ex-President Lee Myung-bak, former head of the NIS (National Intelligence Service), ex-Commissioner of the Seoul Metropolitan Police and spy agents of violating civil rights of South Koreans [ko] by orchestrating and executing the election manipulation and he vowed to continue a series of compensation suits with more plaintiffs. [*note: The number '610' -- a total number of plaintiffs and also suggested damage claims of 610 million Korean Won (about 574 thousand US dollars) -- has been employed to remind people of the nation's iconic June 10 democratic movement back in the 80s] Twitter user @soonhearim tweeted [ko] an image of Han holding court papers. 

Lawyer Han Woong is having an interview now, as of 11 am on December 19 (Thursday). This press conference held in front of Daehanmun (Gate), was about 610 plaintiffs who filed a compensation suit over emotional distress caused by the NIS scandal. 

December 20 2013

South Korean Education Ministry Orders to Discourage Students’ Poster Movement

As South Korean universities students’ ‘We Are Not Fine!’ posters movement spreads like wildfire across the country, even to the point of influencing high, junior high and elementary students [ko], the Ministry of Education has given notice to schools to control students’ poster-making in order ‘not to ruin good studying atmosphere'. Notable citizen-participatory journalism site OhmyNews posted images [ko] of the authorities’ guidelines, which have been shared by Twitter users as below. 

The Mnistry of Education, claiming that the poster movement would ‘damage good studying atmosphere', has ordered each city and province's Office of Education to deliver notice to each school. They say ‘they cant tolerate controversial issues being introduced to and influence schools'.

‘We Are Not Fine!’ Posters Go Viral at South Korea's Universities

Are we seeing a Korean version of Occupy Wall Street?

A handwritten poster by a university student that spelled out the student's frustration with social injustice and current political developments went viral, both on- and offline in South Korea. Inspired by this so-called “We are not fine” poster, which lists various social issues as the reason why “we are not fine”, young Koreans have started writing their own posters and plastering campus bulletin boards with their messages.

Ju Hyun-woo, a student at Korea University, wrote the message below on two large pieces of paper and posted them on his school bulletin board last week. Ju's manifesto listed major social issues that ignited protests, including the presidential election manipulation scandal; mass layoffs of railroad workers; the struggle of small town Milryang's senior residents against the construction of a high voltage tower; the corrutpion of powerful corporations; and the ever-crunched and insecure job market.

He then called on fellow students: “I just want to ask you, ‘Are you okay?’ Are you fine with ignoring all these issues because they are not your problems? I just wanted to ask whether you feel okay about hiding behind political apathy to justify yourself. And if you are not ‘fine’ after seeing all these problems, then voice your opinions – whatever that may be”.

Ju's hand-written poster which sparked this movement

Ju's handwritten poster explaining his frustration with various social issues inspired many other South Koreans to do the same. Photo posted on the ‘Can't Be Okay’ Facebook page. Used with permission.

Following the explosive reaction on campus to the poster, it has spread like wildfire [ko] to universities across the country. More than 20 major universities within and outside of Seoul have joined so far, including Seoul National University, Yonsei, Hanyang, Ewha, KAIST, Pusan University, and many more. Even a student at University of California at Berkley in the United States and some high school students have followed suit (see photos below).

A Facebook page titled “Can't Be Okay” [ko] was set up to share the flood of photos. In a week, it has received 262,000 likes, and Ju's poster, which started the movement, has earned more than 2,000 likes and been shared more than 440 times. Below are six photos from the Can't Be Okay Facebook page, republished with permission: 


A student holding a sign in front of the posters. The sign reads, “I am not fine with the nation's democracy, which keeps regressing toward the past.”


Numerous “We are not fine” posters cover bulletin boards at Korea University. Facebook photo description reads, “Over 40 pages of posters were attached at the back entrance of the Korea University's Politics and Economics Dept. building”.


Seoul National University's “We are not fine” poster. 


Yonsei University's “We are not fine” poster


Hangyang University's “We are not fine” poster


Pusan University's “We are not fine” poster

Several journalists analyzed [ko] the reason why the poster has become so popular with students, concluding that it is because the poster isn't a political statement from certain interest groups, but is a “frank personal statement written in conversational language by a fellow student” who shares the pain and frustration of young, struggling Koreans.

Many Twitter users also shared photos of handwritten posters:

At Sookmyung Women's University. From one end to the other are “We are not fine” posters. Someone wrote over there, “I wasn't able to sleep till late at night, after reading these posters”. It seems like something about these posters has deeply resonated with students.

A handwritten “We are not fine” poster, written by Shin Eun-je and Park Moo-young. It was posted on [University of California at] Berkley's bulletin board. This has started to spread internationally. 

This is an image of a Hyosung High School senior's “We are not fine” poster. 

After the concept went viral, Korea University decided to preserve [ko] Ju's poster at the university museum and introduce it as “a document of a democratic movement”.

Under the banner of “We are not fine”, a group of students from Korea University went offline and protested on December 14.

At Seoul station, on December 14, 2013

Korea University back entrance, on December 14, 2013

The nation's beloved best-selling author, Gong Ji-young, commented about this viral poster:

The keyword of the year 2013 is “We are not fine”. One student's conscience and courage has shaken up the whole country this winter. One individual is not insignificant at all.

Photos of Mass Candlelight Rallies in South Korea

By holding candlelight rallies across the country, frustrated South Koreans have voiced flooding concerns over current political developments and series of scandals, including the snowballing election manipulation allegations@Emfla505 tweeted [ko] this stunning photo of protest in Seoul (below) and site gathered more photos of rallies on December 19.

오늘 서울시청 광장입니다! 민노총의 깃발이 빠져 나가고 난뒤 순수한 시민촛불의 사진입니다! 촛불시민이 대한민국의 잘못된 역사를 바꿀거라 확신합니다!

— 12월의 노래! (@emfla505) December 19, 2013

Today at Seoul City Hall Plaza! After Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ flags have all retreated, only citizens’ candlelight were left as you can see from the photo. I strongly believe that these citizens with candlelight will change the derailed history of Republic of Korea.


December 18 2013

China and North Korea: The Inevitable Fate of Jang Song Thaek Under Dictatorship

Kim Jong Il's statue at Pyongyang. Photo by Flickr user: Matt Paish (CC: AT-SA)

Kim Jong Il's statue at Pyongyang. Photo by Flickr user Matt Paish (CC: AT-SA)

The purge and execution of Jang Song Thaek, uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has stunned the world, in particular its close neighbor and ally China.

Jang, who was in charge of North Korea's economic reform, worked closely with China fomenting economic cooperation between the two countries. In Jang's indictment, one of the accusations he faced was that he sold off the country's precious resources for cheap.

While the Chinese Foreign Ministry calmly claimed that Jang's execution was “an internal affair” for North Korea, Chinese netizens were outraged and took the change to reflect upon the inhumane nature of dictatorship.

On Twitter-likewebsite Sina Weibo, Lian Pang, a columnist and writer, criticized the Foreign Ministry's lack of backbone:


Jang Song Thaek was executed and some country's foreign spokesperson said, “This is North Korea's internal affair”. OK, what about nuclear development? Is that internal? What is happening in North Korea is a human disaster and every member of international society should bear responsibility. […] The current gesture gives the world the impression that you are standing on the side of evil.

Christophfer Jing, a writer, reviewed Chinese contemporary history and questioned China and North Korea's alliance:


So many young Chinese had died in the war to support North Korea against the US (360,000 Chinese soldiers died and 410,000 Chinese civilians died; 21,000 kidnapped). We sacrificed all that to help Kim Jung Un, a post-80s generation dictator, to inherit his throne? The strategic value of North Korea to China is now bringing adverse effects. The three generations of Kim have been fooling China. The execution of Jang Song Thaek is related to his cooperation with China. Once the irrational monarch turns into China's enemy, if he has an atomic bomb, where will he aim it?

Xia Shang, a Chinese novelist, extended the criticism towards the dictatorship system:


The fatty's execution of his uncle has nothing to do with national interest. He turns the party into a family business. As a supporter of dictatorship, Jang Song Thaek had entrapped himself. He thus deserved to die. The only rule of dictatorship is no rule. The only consideration is the party's interest. Don't laugh at Paektu Mountain's [North Korea] claim for the legitimacy of Kim's bloodline, we have our own bloodline originating in Jinggang Mountain [the Base of the Chinese Communist Party's Red Army].

Xia Shang's subtle criticism of the Chinese Communist Party's dictatorship has resonated with many web users. Below is a selection of netizens’ comments translated by ChinaSmack:

“Top Tomb”: Power destroys people’s humanity. Anyone in the face of someone of an even higher power is no better than a dog. In a society of totalitarian dictatorship, no one has a sense of security!

mdjswc: With such bloody purges, your own end may probably lies ahead! When even your own uncle cannot escape being purged, on whom can you depend? As the old saying goes: One cannot afford to incur the wrath of the public! Kim Jong-un’s own end may be even more miserable!

Nicolai: Sigh, how similar! In such a country, even the second-in-command doesn’t know if he’ll survive to tomorrow, where he can be an honorable guest yesterday and suddenly a prisoner in the blink of an eye, let alone the ordinary citizens.

In fact, the execution of Jang has reminded many netizens of the great purge during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Anonymous Weibo user “Reincarnation-back-to-world” drew the connection explicitly:


The purge of anti-revolutionary Jang Song Thaek in North Korea is a repetition of the Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, old fellows Liu [Shaoqi], He Long, Peng Dehuai, and Lin Biao were all killed and the whole nation were armed against each other. It is also a repetition of the USSR great purge. Stalin had thousands of senior officials and ordinary people killed. All dictators enjoy purge and repression.

December 13 2013

South Korea: Students Voice Dissent Against Korea Railroad's Mass Layoff

South Korea's state-owned railway operator, Korea Railroad Corp., has laid off an unprecedented number of more than 7,600 workers [ko] within a week as it decided to set up a subsidiary for new high-speed train operations, which critics call ‘a prelude to privatization of the national rail system'. Inspired by students at the Korea University in Seoul who posted on their school's offline bulletin board a message criticizing the government's such decision– a longtime symbol of students’ dissent, many universities have followed the moves and posted similar messages on their respective school bulletin boards. A Facebook page entitled ‘안녕하십니까‘ [ko] (meaning hello/how are you? in Korean) was set up to share images of those bulletin board messages posted in their universities. The page was set up on December 12 and it has already received more than 41 thousand likes. 

South Korea's ‘Gas Tank Grandpas’ Block Protests in US

Notorious right wing extremists who go by their nickname ‘Gas Tank Grandpas‘ have continued to obstruct protests held by South Koreans living in the United States against the snowballing election manipulation allegations.

Storify user @wjsfree shared images of right wing groups trying to block a small peaceful demonstration held at Yale University earlier this week. Youtube user biophysics7 shared raw footage of the clash embedded below.

Back in September, protesters even caught on tape (no English subtitle yet) one of these ‘Grandpas’ accidentally divulging, while obstructing a candlelight vigil in New York City, that they were paid 100 dollars per protest they block by powerhouses and conservative political groups.

Identified by their extreme language, bandannas and military uniforms, these violent ‘Grandpas’ are exclusively comprised of elderly men well over 50 and have earned their nickname for wielding all sorts of weapons, including a portable gas tank, a fire extinguisher and sticks, while calling protesters ‘Anti-government commies'.

December 09 2013

South Korea: ‘Netizen Investigator’ Talks about Election Manipulation Done via Twitter

Protests have continued for almost a year about the snowballing allegations that South Korean government bodies were engaged in an orchestrated effort to manipulate the latest presidential election. The very latest revelation tells [ko] that there are an additional 20 million tweets written by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to either smear the opposition candidates or praise the current President. This number easily surpasses last month’s count: 1.2 million tweets by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and 23 million tweets [ko] spread by the Defense Ministry's Cyberwarfare Command. 

Zaro profile photo sent via email. It is a picture of his young daughter holding a candlelight (detailed explanation photo is written below)

Zaro profile photo he sent via email. It is a picture of his young daughter holding a candlelight (detailed explanation of the photo is written below)

There is an ordinary individual who worked behind the scenes for a year to make this ground-breaking revelation possible– a 40-year-old net user who goes by his penname Zaro (@zarodream) [ko]. Zaro, who introduced himself as a full-time office worker who neither has technology background nor any political affiliations, kindly answered questions asked by Global Voices Korean editor via email.  

Q: Now many net users call you by your famed nickname ‘The Netizen Investigator’ [*note: it is a popular online term among young Koreans that initially refers to certain net users who are exceptionally skillful at guessing the full names of celebrities/public figures who are engaged in ugly scandals. Korean press reveals only initials of their names]. Since when have you started using your nickname and what this name entails?

제가 ‘네티즌 수사대'라고 스스로를 자처하게 된 것은 국정원 트위터의 흔적을 본격적으로 추적하면서부터 입니다. 사실 처음에는 직접 나서는 것이 부담스러워서 여러 언론사에 제가 발견한 내용들을 제보하는 것으로 출발했습니다. 그런데 대부분의 언론사에서는 제가 제보한 내용들을 무시하더군요. 그리고 보도를 하더라도 제한적인 폭에 그치더군요. 그래서 제가 직접 ‘네티즌 수사대'라는 이름을 내걸고 직접 공개하기 시작한 것입니다. 그러자 오히려 언론에서 저에게 더 많은 관심을 보이며 제가 만든 자료들을 보도하기 시작하더군요[...] 사안에 따라서는, 특히 증거인멸의 가능성이 있는 경우에는 언론사나 수사기관에 직접 따로 제보하는 경우도 많습니다. [...] 때로는 수사기관에서 어떤 방식으로 수사를 진행하면 좋을지에 대한 방법을 제안하기도 합니다. 실제로 검찰이 제 글을 읽었는지는 모르겠지만 검찰이 수사결과를 발표할 때 보면 제가 제안한 방식을 그대로 적용하고 있는 경우가 많더군요.

As I dedicate myself to tracking NIS’ trails on Twittersphere, I started calling myself ‘The Netizen Investigator’. Since there is a lot of pressure in publishing revelations under my name, at first, I merely passed along my findings to media outlets. However, most media companies ignored my reports. And even if some did report, they ended up using only small portions of my findings. That is why I decided to directly publish my findings. Once I did that, then the media showed sudden interest in me and started reporting about my findings … In some cases where my (premature) posting of information could lead to the destruction of evidence, then I contact media and investigative agencies directly and report them my findings… Sometimes, I suggest to investigative agencies specific ways of how to execute the investigations. Although no one can verify whether prosecutors have read my writings or not, I noticed that they followed some ways I suggested.

Q: You also run your personal blog. Are there other sites you usually go to and what do you usually write about?

블로그와 트위터 외에도 저는 ‘Daum 아고라', ‘오늘의 유머', ‘MLB파크'에서도 활발하게 활동하고 있습니다. 그런데 참으로 안타까운 것은 이 세곳 모두 국정원의 여론조작과 종북몰이로부터 자유롭지 않다는 것입니다. ‘Daum 아고라'의 경우 국정원 뿐만 아니라 탈북자 단체인 NK지식인연대가 조직적으로 여론조작을 벌인 곳입니다. ‘오늘의 유머'의 경우 국정원이 다수의 아이디로 추천-반대 조작을 한것도 모자라서 아예 종북 사이트로 낙인을 찍어버렸고, 이 사이트의 운영자인 이호철씨는 국정원으로부터 고소당한 상태입니다.

Beside my personal blog and Twitter account, I am active at these sites: Daum Agora, Todayhumor, MLB Park [ko] [note: Daum Agora is known to be an online venue where serious political debates are taking place, while Todayhumor is an online community site that hosts discussions/chitchats on various diverse topics including fashion, online games, celebrities and users’ personal worries and issues, not limited to politics] Unfortunately, all these three sites were not free from the NIS’ manipulation of public opinion scheme and their ‘pro-North Korean sympathizer’ rhetoric. In the case of Daum Agora, not only the NIS but the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity carried out a systematic public opinion manipulation. On the TodayHumor site, NIS agents, using multiple net IDs have upvoted/downvoted certain posts (in order to influence the site). They even took one step further into branding the site as ‘pro-North Korean’ site and sued Mr. Lee Ho-chul who runs the site.

Q: What has motivated you to track down NIS’ online activities? And how much time have you spent?

지난 4월에 인터넷 독립언론 뉴스타파(KCIJ)는 국정원으로 추정되는 핵심계정 10개를 공개했습니다. 그런데 참 안타까웠던 것은 이 사실에 대해 메이저 언론사들이 외면해버리더군요. 특히 수사를 진행하고 있던 검찰은 국정원 트위터에 대해 수사할 의지 자체를 보여주지 않았습니다. 그래서 제가 뛰어든 겁니다. 저는 비록 검찰처럼 수사권도 없고 첨단 장비도 하나 없지만 일개 네티즌도 마음만 먹으면 이만큼이나 찾아낼 수 있다는 것을 보여주고 싶었습니다. [...]저도 생업이 있는 직장인이기 때문에 대부분의 작업은 밤 늦은 시간부터 새벽까지 이어졌습니다. 하루에 약 3~4시간 정도 작업을 하고 있습니다. 최근에는 軍사이버사령부의 트위터-블로그-게시글 등을 추적하는 일에 많은 시간을 보내고 있습니다[...] 제 예상으로는 아마도 국정원보다 훨씬 광범위한 규모가 될 가능성이 높아보입니다. 

Back in April this year, independent online news outlet NewsTapa [ko] (Korea Center for Investigative Journalism) revealed the ten key net accounts that belong to the NIS. Sadly, (despite their revelation) South Korean mainstream media outlets totally ignored the report as if nothing had ever happened, and the prosecutor’s office did not show any intention to investigate the NIS’ Twitter accounts. That's when I jumped in. I wanted to prove that an ordinary user such as myself, who neither has the official investigative rights the prosecutors have nor any decent devices, can reveal this much, when I am so determined. …Since I am a (full-time) office worker, most of my investigation started late at night and continued till early in the morning. I spend about 3-4 hours daily. Currently, I spent much more time in tracking the Defense Ministry’s Cyber Warfare Command’s activities on Twittersphere, Blogosphere and their posts (written on online community sites)… I expect their online activities would be done on a much bigger scale than those of the NIS.

Q: Could you elaborate on the logistics of your ‘tracking down’ of NIS’ trail on Twittersphere?

저는 먼저 핵심계정 10개가 직접 작성하거나 RT한 트윗들을 찾는 작업을 진행했습니다. 1차적으로 구글에 핵심 계정을 입력하고 검색을 누르면 다양한 정보들이 쏟아집니다. 특히 구글에는 해당 트윗을 삭제했더라도 그 흔적이 고스란히 남아있는 경우가 많습니다. 또한 핵심계정이 올린 트윗을 누군가가 인용하여 RT를 했다면 원글이 삭제되더라도 그 기록이 고스란히 남아있게 됩니다[...] 그리고 구글에는 검색을 도와주는 여러 명령어가 있는데 이를 적절히 활용하면 작업을 하는데 큰 도움이 됩니다. 예를 들어 'site'라는 명령어를 활용하면 해당 계정에서 사용된 특정 단어가 포함된 트윗들을 찾을 수 있습니다. 그리고 온라인에서 제공되는 여러 트위터 관리 사이트가 제공하는 정보들을 살펴보면 특정 트윗에 대해 누가 RT를 많이 했는지를 볼수 있습니다. 그리고 RT한 내용 중 사진이나 동영상이 포함되어 있는 경우에는 그 흔적을 찾기가 더 용이합니다. 

The first step was to locate tweets or retweets done by the key ten accounts. When I googled those major accounts, various search results came out since even after they removed certain tweets, there are still traces of that tweet on Google; when someone mentioned or retweeted certain tweets, the trace of the tweets remain intact even after the original tweet has long gone. …In Google there are several useful commands that people can take advantage of. For example, the command “site” can be used to track tweets that include certain words. And there are many Twitter management sites/tools that enable users to check who retweeted specific tweets. When tweets include images or video clips, it is so much easier to track those.

Q: Is there any specific reason you were focused on tracking NIS’s ‘Twitter activities’ than their other online activities?

트위터는 다른 온라인 활동과는 다르게 그 흔적이 고스란히 남습니다. 자신이 작성한 모든 트윗과 계정까지 삭제를 하더라도 구글을 통해 검색이 용이하고 빅데이터업체를 통해 복원이 가능합니다[...] 그리고 중요한 것은 서로가 트윗을 주고받고 RT된 내용들을 분석해보면 하나의 사회관계망이 도출된다는 것입니다.

Twitter, unlike other online activities, leaves discernible traces. Even after a user removes every tweets he wrote and even his Twitter account, [some of tweets] are still searchable by Google and we are able to recover some by getting help from big data companies… And most importantly, if you analyze the interactions between certain Twitter accounts, you can figure out the connections between accounts.

Q: It is tricky to match a Twitter ID with one’s real identity. How was this possible?

뉴스타파가 공개한 핵심계정 10개 중에서도 가장 핵심으로 꼽혔던 대장계정은 ‘nudlenudle'이라는 계정입니다[...] 저는 핵심계정 10개와 동일한 계정으로 이메일을 제공하는 대형 포털 사이트인 네이버, 다음, 네이트, 야후 등에 계정이 있을수 있다는 생각이 들었습니다. 저는 회원가입 절차에 나오는 ‘아이디 중복 체크’ 방법을 통해 핵심계정 10개를 확인해봤더니 다수의 아이디가 동일한 계정이 존재하다는 것을 발견했습니다. 이를 바탕으로 뉴스타파는 ‘nudlenudle'이 국정원 심리전담 직원 이모씨 라는 것을 최종 확인하게 된 것입니다.

One of the most important accounts, even among the NIS’ ten key Twitter accounts revealed by Newstapa, was net ID: ‘nudlenudle’… After thinking there must be accounts using the same ID in major portal sites, such as Naver, Daum, Nate and Yahoo, I used the user registration pages’ ‘Check for ID availability’. I checked all ten key accounts [in these portal user registration pages] and was able to reach a conclusion there are accounts using that same ID. Based on my finding, Newstapa was able to confirm that the user ID ‘nudlenudle’ is an account belonging to Ms. Lee who works for the NIS psychological warfare team. [*note: Major South Korean portals require users to type in their real names and social security numbers at time of registration. Zaro provided the possibility that checking portal sites accounts could lead to verification of Twitter user's identity]

Q: Upon seeing specific kind of traits/content, why did you suspect them to be written by the NIS? Are there any patterns NIS’ tweets share?

가장 큰 특징은 북한에 대한 내용이 상당히 많다는 것입니다. 그것도 일반인들이 알기는 힘든 차원의 정보가 담긴 내용들이 상당히 많습니다. 그리고 종북몰이에 혈안이 되어 있습니다.

The most significant trait of the NIS is that they quoted lots of North Korean related content. They often contained information that no ordinary citizen could have access to and they were very eager to brand (someone/group) as a ‘pro-North Korean sympathizer’.

Zaro thanked Newstapa's investigative journalists for their endeavors and humbly added that ‘he merely reported info and suggested possibilities to them'. He explained about his profile photo above: It is a picture of his young daughter holding a lit candle, meaning he is hoping to see ‘the society where no candle light is ever needed’ [referring to candlelight rallies] and ‘building such a world for his daughter would be Zaro's dream'.

December 04 2013

Follow the Money, South Korean Politicians Got Money from Construction Companies

Newtapa [ko] (Korea Center for Investigative Journalism) published a web feature [ko] which displays list of politicians’ names who received political donations from construction companies involved in the statewide construction project ‘Four Major Rivers Project‘. 

November 25 2013

South Korea's Spy Agency, Military Sent 24.2 Million Tweets to Manipulate Election

It has been almost a year since South Korea's spy agency made headlines for manipulating public opinion before the latest presidential election, but shocking revelations have shown that the electoral interference was much more than some maverick spy agents trying to sway public opinion – it was done systematically and on a massive scale. 

Recently, the country's prosecutor's office conducted a thorough investigation and found that the scope of election manipulation was much wider and organized than anyone has expected: 1.2 million tweets were sent out by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to smear opposition leaders, and 23 million tweets [ko] were spread by the Defense Ministry's Cyberwarfare Command to tip the scale in favor of current President Park Geun-hye.

Weekly protests seem to have rekindled, as well as numerous tweets about this unprecedented election interference:

We are now holding a candlelight rally [as of 6 p.m., November 23] with tens of thousands of angry citizens against the systematic electoral interference, broken campaign promises and a clampdown on labor groups.

The number of NIS’s election-related tweets are found to be around 1.1 million – what a colossal amount. If we assume that there are a hundred NIS agents [whose major tasks are leaving comments online], it means one agent took care of 11,000 tweets. If you assume that he or she wrote 50 tweets a day on average, that still takes 220 days to reach that number. If we dont count weekends and holidays, they need a full year to publish this amount of tweets. And it is the evidence that there has been a systemic, organized, and massive efforts to interfere in the election. [*note: More of NIS's tweets have been found as the investigation proceeds, the most recent revelation says that they are about 1.24 million tweets [ko] in total.] 

Countless sarcastic comments were made about not only the NIS agents but also the Defense Ministry's Cyberwarfare Command, which is believed to be three times bigger than the NIS’s cyberteam [ko]. It allegedly sent about 20 times more election-related tweets than the spy agency:

@SamuelWKim1: The NIS sent 1.21 million tweets and the military’s Cyberwarfare Command sent 23 million tweets. The NIS was not working hard [compared to the Cyberwarfare Command].

No country in the world has pulled off such a systemic and massive manipulation of elections. Please somebody call the Guinness Book of World Records in England and ask them to list us as a country where an unprecedented number of 1.2 million manipulative tweets have been found. If we can also include numbers of comments they [NIS and military Cyberwarfare Command] left on portal sites, we can even break that record.

The prosecutor's office confirmed that NIS wrote 1.24 million of election and politics-related tweets. They’ve found 1.24 million tweets so far! But I believe even that number would be just the tip of the iceberg. What if they had done a more thorough investigation on the portal sites such as Naver and Daum?

Additional revelation came out later [ko] that best-selling authors, academics and even entertainers who vocally criticized the administration have also been a target of attacks by the NIS tweets:

@actormoon: 이건 대상이 ‘민간인'이란 면에서 또 다른 차원의 ‘범죄'입니다

@actormoon: Considering the fact that some tweets were targeting civilians, it is another level of “crime”

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