Korean democracy detained with Minerva


For a long time, Korea was thought to be the most democratic country in Asia. In the 2006 edition of Reporters Without Borders’ oft-quoted report on Worldwide Press Freedom, Korea was ranked at No. 31, the highest in Asia. Japan rated No. 51.
But over the past two years, the situation has dramatically changed, culminating in the 7 January arrest of a popular blogger. The surname of the blogger is Park, but he is better known in South Korea as Minerva. He was arrested by Korean government, which has cited a communications law dating to the mid-‘80s, when South Korea was ruled by a corrupt former army general.

Minerva has until now been in jail awaiting trail. His case has begun to attract international attention.

On 12 January, Reporters Without Borders released a report documenting its worries about a “serious violation of free expression and bodes ill for the Internet’s future in South Korea”.

Using one of the most popular blogging platforms in South Korea, Minerva wrote more than 100 articles on his site, Agora. All were published under his pseudonym. Most of all, he is famous for forecasting the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the crisis of Korea’s currency and economic situation. He was believed in South Korea to be a prophet, a hero.

Many of his articles involve economic theory, leading people to consider him a specialist in economics. Some Korean people have taken to calling him ‘the economy president’.

Sometimes he writes critically of South Korean government economic policy. Particularly after he correctly predicted the fall of Lehman Brothers, some South Koreans were following his comments more closely than ever-optimistic government publicity.

Minerva is at present detained on charges that he has published incorrect information on his blog. On 29 December, 2008, he wrote, “Korean government had sent urgent letters to major local financial institutions to stop buying US dollars.”
The prosecutor insisted that “this was definitely wrong information”. He continued, “(Mr. Park) did not graduate from a school of economics. He is only an unemployed person.”

he prosecutor added that “because of this false information, the Korean government must pay additional money to exchange currency on the market”.

Prosecutors calculate that Minerva damaged Korean economy for about $2 billion.

It is not yet confirmed that the Korean government really sent letters to major financial institutions, but it is confirmed that the government called and asked major financial institutions to carry out this action.

This case has sent shivers through the Korean blogosphere. Many notable bloggers writing about the economy have begun to delete their articles because they worry that they could also be arrested by the police anytime - even if what they write in their article is true.

General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Aidan White, said recently: “This episode will damage the freedom of expression in Korea”.

Forty-eight Korean NGOs - including The Journalists Association of Koreans, Green Korean Unite and the Lawyers for Democratic Society -  have signed a statement calling for Minerva’s release.

Some are calling for the abolition of Electronic Communication Fundamental Law Article 47 Clause 1, which was used to arrest Minerva. should be abolished. The Electronic Communication Fundamental Law Article 47 Clause 1 came into existence in 1983, during the presidency of Jeon Duhwan. This law had not been used often since South Korea became democratic in 1987. In fact, Korean law professors say that this law is today too ambiguous to easily be used to arrest people.
In Greek mythology, Minerva was the goddess of wisdom. Now the Korean Minerva is in jail and the wisdom of Korea is also imprisoned.

Flickr photo from user Silvain de Munck