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January 20 2014

South Korea Accused of Rewriting History in High School Textbook

Image by Kopachris, Deviant Art (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Image by Kopachris, Deviant Art (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) 

A conservative high school history textbook in South Korea that puts a positive spin on some of the country's most controversial periods of history, such as Japan's colonial rule, has been a source of heated debate for several weeks, with the government being accused of favoring textbooks that support their political beliefs and paint a rosier view of various periods of history.

The textbook by Kyohak Publishing Co has been lambasted not only for its inaccuracy, but for whitewashing the past flaws of certain interest groups. Critics say the sheer volume of errors – over 750 mistakes – in the textbook are serious enough to disqualify it as a legitimate learning tool.

Parents and students protested hard against several schools who have decided to adopt Kyohak's textbook and finally succeeded in revoking the decision. However, the Ministry of Education has offered excuses for the publishers, first by claiming that it was not the final version. Even after it was revealed that Kyohak still has not applied the required adjustments to the textbook and its revised version contained about 350 errors, the ministry again embraced them, saying that it was a trial version. According to local report, one historian said [ko] “in his 22 years as a history teacher, he has never heard of such thing as a ‘textbook trial version’, and the ministry’s outlandish claim renders him speechless.”

The scope [ko] of the errors are wide: misleading descriptions of Japanese imperial rule of Korea, incorrect names of locations on a map, and the false claim that the United States had a colony in the Indochina region. Another noteworthy mistake includes an inaccurate description of President Park Geun-hye’s father, the late military dictator Park Chung-hee: the textbook says Koreans’ average per capital income reached 10,000 US dollars under his rule, when it should be 1,000.

The textbook also claims that the so-called comfort women – young teenagers and women, many of whom were Korean, who were forced into prostitution by the Empire of Japan during World War II to “comfort” the troops – “followed the Japanese army around”, thereby implying that they have voluntarily choose to serve the army for the money. There is even an error suspected to have been lifted from an online blog post.

The New York Times recently added fuel to the fire with an editorial entitled “Politicians and Textbooks” in which the paper accused President Park of downplaying Korean collaboration with Japanese imperialists during Japan's colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945. The editorial concluded that Park, along with Japanese President Shinzo Abe, are “pushing to have high school history textbooks in their countries rewritten to reflect their political views.” The Korean Foreign Ministry fired right back, saying it will “take necessary steps against the New York Times with regard to the erroneous facts.”

Enraged Koreans commented as below:

Kyohak Publishing’s textbook is only worth as much as the ruling Saenuri party’s campaign flyers. 

After watching Chairman of Kyohak Publishing Yang Cheol-woo’s interview on the JTBC Sohn Suk-hee’s news program, I can totally see how that garbage, pro-Japanese imperialist book was born. He kept claiming their textbook has no flaws and it is the most accurate book available. He even accused other textbooks of being “left-leaning”.

More concerns arose as reports came out [ko] that immediately after Kyohak Publishing’s history textbook had been rejected by parents and students, the government and ruling Saenuri party began pushing to publish it and impose the textbook on a national level. Currently, students, parents and teachers have a say in the textbook selection process, and have a choice among several different books. The political opposition denounced the move [ko] as an attempt to stifle points of view that differ from their own, and commented that a one-size-fits-all textbook system is a favorite of authoritarian regimes who can easily manipulate its content. The most notable cases of the one national textbook system would be North Korea and Russia. 

When they found out that Kyohak’s history textbook had been completely rejected by students, parents and teachers, the proper way to respond is by looking back at their flaws and feeling shameful and apologetic. But how did they react? It is as if they are seeking revenge, they are pushing to switch to a universal textbook system. This is an utter disregard for history and disrespect for the people.

Twitter influencer and historian Jeon Woo-yong (@histopian) tweeted a series of messages regarding this issue:

Even the monarchy of the Joseon Dynasty did not interfere with chroniclers’ works. It is those in power who should be afraid of history, not history that clings on to power. The reason why those in power want to exert control over history is either because they are ashamed to face history, or they dont even bother to make themselves feel unashamed'. 

January 17 2014

Two Opposite Arguments on Whether CAR Crisis is a Religious Conflict

The violent conflict that rocks the Central African Republic (CAR) spurred a debate on whether the conflict turned into an inter-religious conflict and therefore might escalate into a genocide.  Juan Branco, a researcher at Yale law School and a blogger for Rue89, argues that there is no history of such conflict in CAR and therefore, the media is at fault for overhyping this notion  [fr]:

Il n’y a pas de monstres au camp du Kasaï, censé abriter les miliciens les plus sanguinaires d’Afrique centrale. Personne qui ne tienne de discours de haine, même quand on les y pousse. Il y a des chrétiens qui citent des longs extraits de la Bible pour convaincre leurs camarades d’abandonner leurs gris-gris. Des musulmans qui font tant bien que mal une ou deux des cinq prières exigées

   There are no monsters in the camp of Kasai, a camp is supposedly a shelter for the bloodiest Central African militia. No one here is spreading hate speech even when they are edged on to do so. There are Christians who quote extensively from the Bible to convince their comrades to abandon their voodoo charms. There are Muslims who are just trying to go through their praying rituals. 

Florence Lozach is a war reporter that just finished an investigative report on the CAR conflict. She states that media certainly did not invent the growing tension between Christians and Muslims in CAR and that all indications points toward a very worrisome trend [fr]:

Le 5 décembre, vous n’étiez pas là visiblement, M. Branco. La plupart des médias, que vous méprisez aujourd’hui au plus haut point, étaient là, eux, dans les rues, puis dans la mosquée Ali Babolo, puis à nouveau dans les rues. Les propos ont changé ce jour-là. Avec plus de 500 morts dans les rues, le discours a penché puis complètement chuté dans la haine chrétiens-musulmans.

On December 5, evidently you were not here (in Bangui) Mr. Branco. Most of the media that you despise so much today were here, in the streets, and then in the Ali Babolo mosque and then again, in the streets. The words that were used have changed that day. With over 500 dead people in the streets, the words we heard turned into hate speech between people of Christian and Muslim faith.

January 16 2014

BBC's North Korean Broadcast Plan Hit a Snag

It is not the first time BBC's ambitious plan to reach out to one of the world's most reclusive countries has been thwarted. Back in June 2013, BBC World Service’ plan to air programmes in North Korea was curbed by government cuts to its budget. This time, BBC has concluded ‘it is not currently possible’ for them ‘to offer a meaningful, effective and cost-effective service.’ North Korea Tech blog went over each possible hurdle North Korean broadcast service would face, including the jamming issue, regulations and more.

January 11 2014

Hong Kong: Seeing Kitsch in Art

Evan Fowler looked into the art history and explained the term

Evan Fowler looked into the art history and explained the term “Kitsch” at the House News.

kitsch presents us with a fantasy, and feelings and emotions that we may wish to have but are not central to our actual experience of self. It trades in models and stereotypes, that at best we may aspire to or wish to believe, but nevertheless tell us nothing about ourselves.

January 09 2014

South Korea: Political Revenge against Whistleblower?

Kwon Eun-hee, a policewoman and ex-chief investigator at Seoul Suseo Police station, revealed last summer that her team had received pressures and ‘unreasonable orders’ from superiors to reduce the scope of an investigation into the spy agency election manipulation scandal. Although net users lauded Kwon, her bold act seems to have taken its toll; local media reports [ko] that Kwon has failed to get a promotion which was considered ‘a sure thing for someone with Kwon’s resume and qualifications’, adding that if that happens one more time, by law she would be forced to leave her position in four years. Many suspect it is a politically-motivated decision, including prominent citizen journalist Media Mongu who commented it is ‘a scary revenge’ [ko] and embedded a highlight video of Kwon's revelations.

Voices from the Victims of Naphtha Cracker Pollution in Taiwan

Residents in the area of a petrochemical processing plant in Taiwan's western Yulin County are at risk for exposure to several toxic air pollutants that can cause various diseases, including cancers, according to a report by researchers from the National Taiwan University. 

The comprehensive research on the impact of Formosa Plastics Group's naphtha cracker No. 6, released in July 2012, found that among the pollutants that residents are likely to be exposed to the carcinogenic and liver-damaging vinyl chloride, which is an essential raw material in the manufacturing of PVC and other plastic products.

The findings echo those of the US Environmental Protection Agency, which saw “extensive” violations at Formosa Plastics' plants in Louisiana and Texas in 2009. The Taiwanese company paid a settlement worth 13 million US dollars in that case to the US Department of Justice.

The Yulin Country naphtha cracker was met with public opposition over its possible health consequences from the start of construction in 1992. In 2009, the local government, which had welcomed the investment in their area, agreed to invite researchers from the National Taiwan University to conduct a three-year study to evaluate the health risk in relation to the complex.

Their damning results have inspired residents to take up a possible lawsuit against the Formosa Plastics Group [zh]. Jung Sheng-hsiung reported on the progress at public news portal PNN:


Tsai-Neng Chen, who lives in Taishi, told me that his parents and sister and brother and son died because of liver cirrhosis. His son was only 19 years old when he died. Tsai-Neng Chen himself also has suffered liver cirrhosis for five years […] “Some people said that I ‘imagine’ the correlation. However, if this disease is due to genetic problems from my father, why are my three sisters who moved out after they got married still healthy and fit? Only us who stayed here get sick and die.” Tsai-Neng Chen emphasized the threat faced by all the residents of the area by the Naphtha Cracker Complex […] If the residents care about their future generations and decide to file a lawsuit against Formosa Plastic Group, he will be the first one to join.

The study has also prompted other nearby areas like Chuanhua County to push for a similar investigation into their situation. Chuanhua County is located north of the plant, and when the summer south wind blows, residents fear that it might carry some of the same air pollutants with it.

Sheng-Hsiung Jung, reporting for PNN, visited the affected villages from Chuanhua County and presented a photo feature titled as “The South Wind”. GV has granted the permission from Jung to republish and translate part of his feature report at PNN.



In the past, everyone in the village would jump into the sea to catch eels. Old fishermen would tell you, in the old days, the river mouth would be crowded with people like a night market as villagers would catch grass eels to increase the family income. However, the good old days didn't last long and now you seldom see people fishing for grass eels. The eels are vanishing at rapid speed.



61-year-old Chin-Feng Chen's late husband, Shih-Hsien Hsu, who died two years ago, did not leave her anything except an old house, for which they have paid the mortgage for 20 years but still need to pay more. And the debt for his sickness is yet to clear. When Shih-Hsien Hsu was alive, they always did the farming together. Since they did not own any land, they could only farm for others to make an income. Their financial condition was never good. In 2006, Shih-Hsien Hsu, who never smoked tobacco nor drank alcohol or chewed betel nuts, was diagnosed with oral cancer. His health condition kept deteriorating despite help from doctors. He died in November 2011 at the age of 59 after the cancer spread to his lungs.

Chin-Feng Chen said that she does not have sufficient knowledge to explain why her husband died from oral cancer. However, she wonders how a person such as her husband, who was a farmer in the countryside without any bad habits such as smoking and drinking or chewing betel nuts, died from oral cancer.



74-year-old Lin-Shin Wei developed a six-centimeter-large tumor in her left lung three years ago, and was diagnosed with lung adenocarcinoma. Considering her age and the size of the tumor, the doctor suggested that the cancer not be removed through surgical measures because her prognosis might not be very good. However, Lin-Shin Wei said she wanted to fight the cancer and proved her body strong enough to receive the surgery. She eventually convinced the doctor.

Now Lin-Shin Wei has a scar 15 centimeters long on her body. She was proud to show the scar to me during the interview. To her, this scar is not only evidence of her illness, but also an award for her will to live.

January 07 2014

Users Jeer at North Korean Death-by-Dog Story

A major US media outlet, NBC made one of the most sensational international reports which claimed the North Korean young dictator might have had his uncle devoured by 120 ravenous dogs. Unsurprisingly, the report went viral online, but was later found out to be a confusion caused by social media satire. Numerous jeers and jokes have been made about Western media's speculative reports on the world’s most reclusive nations. Ask A Korean blog founder via Twitter (@AskAKoreanreminded people of the fake voiceover fiasco back in the spring of 2013 when the inter-Korean tension was dangerously heightened.

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. 

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

Reposted byirukandjisyndrome irukandjisyndrome

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 22 2013

World Forum for Democracy 2013: Connecting Citizens and Institutions

World Forum for Democracy 2013 in Strasbourg: plenary session. Photo by Suzanne Lehn.

World Forum for Democracy 2013 in Strasbourg: plenary session. Photo by Suzanne Lehn.

The second World Forum for Democracy took place in Strasbourg from 27 to 29 November, 2013. Two and a half days of intense in sessions presented by experts at the Council of Europe, for which the public could register, and an off programme lasting over a week in various settings around the city seem to have installed this event in the landscape and calendar of the capital of Europe. Rue 89 Strasbourg set out the event [fr] the evening before it opened:

Plusieurs dizaines de manifestations, un public attendu au in de 1 700 personnes (800 participants en 2012), diplomates, fonctionnaires européens et Strasbourgeois, au minimum de 700 à 800 personnes au off (estimations 2012). Le tout pour un budget d’1,2 millions d’euros auxquels s’ajoutent 300 000€ de la Ville de Strasbourg auparavant « fléchés » sur d’autres opérations dans l’année, concentrées désormais sur la période du Forum.

Several dozen presentations, an in public expected to reach 1,700 people (800 took part in 2012), diplomats, civil servants representing both Europe and the city, at least 700 to 800 people for the off events (estimations for 2012). All for a budget of 1.2 million euros [1.6 million US dollars], with an additional 300,000 euros [410,000 US dollars] from the City of Strasbourg previously ‘ring-fenced’ for other events throughout the year, but now concentrated on the period when the Forum takes place.

The Lab 18 panel. Photo by Suzanne Lehn.

The Lab 18 panel. Photo by Suzanne Lehn.

The first Forum in 2012 focussed on the theme of “Democracy on Trial: Between Old Models and New Realities”, and was surrounded by the hope brought by the Arab spring and attended by global personalities. The 2013 Forum, on the other hand, which took place in the presence of the Secretary General of La Francophonie Abdou Diouf [fr] and the writer Amin Maalouf, claimed a more technical focus, both in its subject matter, “Re-wiring Democracy: connecting institutions and citizens in the digital age” and in its organisation, with 4 topics addressed in 21 ‘Labs', with expert presentations having been selected months in advance.

As a Global Voices representative and living only a few steps from the Palais de l'Europe where the forum took place, here is a review of some of the Labs I attended:

Liquid democracy - Lab 1. Photo by Suzanne Lehn.

Liquid democracy – Lab 1. Photo by Suzanne Lehn.

- Alternatives to representative democracy? Lab 1: Liquid democracy, with a presentation by the German Pirate Party, and Lab 3: Fostering public debate and building a shared vision of the future, with particular reference to young people (Phillipines, France);

- Democracy 2.0: Lab 9: Election alert, with our friends from the iHub in Kenya;

- Governing with citizens;

- Envisioning the future: Lab 17: Making films, making society, focussing on the Tunisie 4.0 Nesselfen project, and my favourite, Lab 18: “Solution journalism” in action in the presence of the Bangladeshi blogger Shahidul Alam and the Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas. Finally more human density.

The presentations were then summarised in two plenary sessions, including a vote on the initiatives presented; a somewhat empty process given that approval was invariably between 70 to 80%.

To provide more information, a Facebook page and a Twitter hashtag #CoE_WFD (the same as for the 2012 Forum) were created. The Council of Europe website put videos and photos (here and here) of the sessions online, and created Google groups to continue discussions.

The Médiapart blog provides detailed coverage of all of the sessions [fr] – including some of the off conferences.

A design artist was present at each Lab. Photo by Suzanne Lehn.

A design artist was present at each Lab. Photo by Suzanne Lehn.

In this podcast, 5 student bloggers from Holland and Germany give their opinions. As part of the off events, the Global Voices author Alexey Sidorenko was interviewed [fr] by the Franco-German television channel Arte on the freedom of information in Russia.

Although the Forum was attended by participants from all over the world, it had very little in common with the designer chaos of a World Social Forum [fr], despite the Democracy Innovation Fair grouping together stands of organisations presenting their initiatives in a space within the Council of Europe, where access is reserved. The off programme [fr], coordinated by the City of Strasbourg, presented those living in and visiting Strasbourg with a diverse range of concerts, cinema festivals, debates and meetings organised by Reporters without Borders, the newspaper Le Monde, France Culture… That being so, one of the main purposes of the event seemed to be to stimulate reflection and increase the propositions of the Council of Europe in its role as a defender of democracy. The ‘young leaders’ from Europe, who are currently following courses given by the Council of Europe's network of schools of political studies, actively participated in sessions.

The Franco-German newspaper Eurojournal commented [fr] somewhat maliciously:
Hier, juste après la fin du FMD, les illuminations du Marché de Noël ont été lancées. Chic. Mais une nouvelle fois, de nombreux participants ont regretté le manque de résultats concrets que l’on est en droit d’attendre d’une telle manifestation qui se veut mondiale et qui aurait effectivement le potentiel de le devenir. Si seulement les organisateurs affichaient un peu plus d’ambitions.

 Yesterday, just after the end of the WFD, the lights of the Christmas market were switched on. Chic. But once again, numerous participants were disappointed by the lack of concrete results which are to be expected from such a presentation claiming to represent the world and which certainly has the potential to do so. If only the organisers were more ambitious. 

The blog Décrypter la communication européenne [Decrypting European Communication] decrypted [fr] the issues of this Forum, based on the World Forum for Democracy 2013 Issues Paper: “Exploiting the web as a tool of democracy: new ways forward in the study and practice of digital democracy” [pdf], concluding:
Au total, la révolution de la démocratie numérique européenne est en marche, mais plutôt que d’opposer des « forces de progrès » cyberenthousiastes à des « rétrogrades » cybersceptiques, la ligne de fracture dépend d’abord de ce que les citoyens et les institutions font ou ne font pas d’Internet, en tant qu’outil fonctionnel de démocratie.  

Overall, the revolution of European digital democracy is underway, but rather than opposing the ‘force-for-progress’ cyberenthusiasts and the ‘backwards-looking’ cybersceptics, the fracture line depends first of all on what citizens and institutions do or don't do with the internet as a functional tool for democracy.

“E-toile” installation on the side of the Council of Europe during the Forum. Photo by Suzanne Lehn.

Has the World Forum for Democracy reached maturity with this second event? Led by the Council of Europe, an institution still lacking wider recognition [fr], and the City of Strasbourg, other French institutions, whether governmental, regional or local, were barely visible. The contributions and debates were rich, although their concentration over a short period of time – two half days of ‘Lab’ presentations – meant that only two out of twenty one could be attended in full. The organisation was effective and creative, in particular with regard to the participation of artists, and has found a good cruising speed. Unfortunately, friendliness seemed to have been somewhat forgotten – unless it was hiding away in one of the famous ‘winstubs‘ found in the European and Alsatian capital? 

Women and democracy: World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg 2013.

Women and democracy: World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg 2013.

All of Suzanne Lehn's photos of the World Forum for Democracy 2013 can be found on Flickr (licence CC).

This post was proofread in English by Georgi McCarthy.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

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'.

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