Urgent Appeal to Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
An arrest of a famous internet blogger, pen-named “Minerva” in South Korea
A wildly popular internet financial pundit, “Minerva” was arrested on Jan. 7, 2009 for making false information online under the Article 47(1) of the Framework Act on Telecommunications, “A person who has publicly made a false communication over the telecommunications facilities and equipment for the purpose of harming the public interest shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than five years or by a fine not exceeding fifty million won.” Mr. Park Dae-sung, 31 years old, known as “Minerva” had posted more than 200 commentaries on ‘Agora,’ a nation’s biggest online discussion forum run by major internet portal ‘Daum’ attracting more than two million visitors everyday. Mr. Park became famous for predicting the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers and criticizing Lee Myung-Bak administrations’ economic policies. Even Finance Minister Kang Man-soo would like to have a “face-to-face, down-to-earth talk” with him. Unlike speculations on Mr. Park’s profile, a retired financial market expert in his 50s with a degree from prestigious overseas university, when he remained in anonymity before his arrest, Mr. Park is said that he, a graduate of a two-year technical college, has practically no formal financial trainings and no current jobs, which leaves most of citizens suspicion whether he is the real “Minerva” or not.
3. Information related to State actions
Mr. Park wrote an article on the ‘Agora’ on Dec. 29, 2008 that the government had forced major financial institutions to stop buying dollars to prop up the won. While the administration strongly denied the allegation, the prosecution arrested Mr. Park for spreading false information that Korea’s won currency was in danger of collapsing. The prosecution announced after Mr. Park’s article on Dec. 29, 2008 at 2:30 PM, 40% of daily correspondence was intensively traded causing more than 2 billion dollar selling of nation’s reserves. A member of the Democratic Party, Lee Seok-hyun said, however, “On Dec. 26, 2008, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance (MOSF) convened a meeting of representatives from the country’s seven biggest banks (and they) were force to attend.” The prosecution arrested Mr. Park on Jan. 7, requested warrant on Jan. 9, and put him under detention on Jan. 10, 2009. Mr. Park requested a review on legality of custody for not satisfying facts constituting a crime: making false communication, having purpose of harming public interest, and having possibility of destructing of evidence and escape since all those articles, the evidence, are already posted on the internet. The Seoul Central District Court, however, dismissed the review on Jan. 15, 2009 for not having ‘change of situation’ which is requisite for review on legality of custody, judging this case important affecting nation’s credibility, and having possibility of destructing of evidence and escape. Mr. Park is under detention and investigation as of Jan. 20, 2009.
4. Allegation regarding a medium of communication
Mr. Park’s arrest had drawn keen interest from both domestic and international press on suppressing the freedom of opinion and expression. Related articles of the press are posted below.
5. Information on the source of the communications
MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Deomocratic Society
5F, Sinjeong B/D, 1555-3, Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea, P.O. 137-070
Tel: 82 2 522 7284 Fax: 82 2 522 7285
E-mail : email@example.com
HP : http://minbyun.jinbo.net
Qatar Tribune, Jan. 11, 2009.
South Korean blogger arrested
AP – SEOUL A South Korean blogger pleaded not guilty Saturday to charges that he spread false economic information on the Internet, a news report said, in a case that drew heated debate over freedom of speech. The blogger, identified only by his surname Park, gained prominence among South Koreans because some of his dire predictions about the global economy, including the collapse of Lehman Brothers, later proved to be correct. Known widely by his pen name “Minerva,” the mythological Greek goddess of wisdom, the 31-year-old Park was accused of spreading false information on an Internet discussion site last month that the government had ordered major financial institutions and trade businesses not to purchase US dollars.
Kim Yong-sang, a judge at the Seoul Central District Court who issued an arrest warrant for Park following Saturday’s court hearing, said the case “affected foreign exchange markets and the nation’s credibility,” Yonhap news agency reported. Park told the judge he wrote articles to help underprivileged people and did not seek any personal financial gain or harm the public interest, Yonhap said. In about 100 postings on the popular Web site last year, Park criticized the government’s handling of the economy and made predictions, largely negative, on the future. His writings were sprinkled with jargon that convinced some readers he was an economic expert.
Park described himself in Web entries as a former securities firm employee with a master’s degree earned in the United States and experience in the field of corporate acquisitions and takeovers, according to local media. His deeply analytical style and sometimes prescient forecasts made Park a star on the Web, earning him the nickname “economic president on the Internet.”
But prosecutors said Park was an unemployed resident of Seoul who studied economics on his own after graduating from a vocational high school and a junior college with a major in information and communication. Repeated calls to the court seeking confirmation went unanswered on Saturday evening.
It is rare for bloggers to be arrested in South Korea, one of the world’s most wired and tech savvy nations. Critics say the case could undermine freedom of speech on the Internet. “It is as if control on the Internet started as of today,” a blogger wrote on a bulletin board in Daum Communications, one of South Korea’s popular Web portals after news came of Park’s detention on Wednesday.
Lawyers for a Democratic Society, a prominent human rights group, has called for Park’s release and urged the prosecution to stop its investigation. It is extremely intolerant for the government “to punish those who freely express their opinions and discuss them on the Internet,” the group said on Friday. In a statement, the main opposition Democratic Party expressed disappointment over the arrest and accused the judiciary of paving the way for human rights violations.
The Korea Times, Jan. 11, 2009.
Foreigners Puzzled Over Minerva’s Arrest
By Jane Han
South Korean authorities are growing more serious over whether ― and how ― they’re going to punish popular online guru Minerva after arresting him last Wednesday for spreading false information. But for foreigners and overseas bloggers, the Internet witch-hunt is a ridiculous episode that could only hurt the image of one of the world’s most-wired countries.
“Korea is starting to look silly for trying to imprison a blogger,” said Tom Coyner, who helps advise foreign investors in South Korea as president of Soft Landing Consulting. “Authorities are taking this too far.”
Park Dae-sung, 31, who wrote more than 200 online postings criticizing the government’s economic policies under the alias Minerva, was arrested on charges of undermining the country’s financial markets with his dire predictions.
The Web commentator is currently detained and being investigated. If indicted and convicted, he could get a jail term of up to five years or a fine of up to 50 million won ($37,000)
Minerva’s arrest instantly fueled a furor over freedom of speech, as critics blasted the government and prosecutors for tag teaming in a bid to suppress people’s basic civil rights.
“You wouldn’t see this kind of situation in the U.S. or any other advanced country,” said Michael Breen, a political and business consultant, who stressed that both the prosecution and the government must learn to uphold people’s rights.
He said if the authorities are smart, they will investigate and let Park go.
“If they’re dumb, however, they’re going to go ahead and prosecute him, but Park will be found not guilty,” said Breen, adding that such an outcome will only do harm to the prosecution.
Robert Koehler, who runs popular web blog Marmot’s Hole, raised a problem with the government’s handling of the opinionated blogger.
“Maybe they can bring him in for a talk or even sue him, but having the guy arrested just sends chills down everyone’s spine. They’re setting a precedent,” said the blogger, who manages a site that attracts 3,500 visitors daily.
Koehler said the government is probably paranoid from the massive wave of anti-government candlelight vigils last summer that were prompted by the Internet-driven public.
“Still, that doesn’t mean the government could crack down on bloggers in such a way,” he said, asking, “How many countries arrest bloggers?”
Maybe Egypt, China and Iran, he said, adding, “It’s not a pretty group. Does South Korea want to be grouped with them?”
On blogs based overseas, users have already started poking fun at the situation.
“I guess [Robert] Shiller, [Laurence] Kotlikoff and [Nouriel] Roubini are next,” wrote one Yahoo blogger with the username billander88. “They have to arrest half of university economics professors in the world for economics analysis. Who’s next?”
Paul Kedrosky, a U.S.-based venture capitalist and a popular blogger at Infectious Greed, wrote, “Let [Minerva's arrest] be a warning to Nouriel Roubini.”
Koehler emphasized, “If prosecutors decide to indict Minerva, they will be shooting themselves in the foot. Critics overseas will think so especially.”
Thirst for Analysis
Discussing the financial pundit’s extreme popularity, observers generally said the lack of transparency in Korean society was the biggest contributor to Minerva’s quick fame and influence.
“Koreans put excessive faith into anonymous information because they’ve lost trust in mainstream media,” said Coyner. “So Minerva’s analytical perception attracted an instant crowd of followers.”
David Mason, a professor at Kyung Hee University, who lived in Korea for more than a decade, agrees.
The public fostered a sense of trust for information provided by faceless people because they figured that the government, big companies and reputable media outlets don’t give them anything better, he said.
Over the past few months, Minerva’s analytical style and sometimes prescient forecasts have purportedly affected foreign exchange markets and investment decisions.
“Frankly, the Internet has a kind of traction that mainstream media doesn’t,” said Koehler, adding that there is not much the government can do to offset the reality.
“They just need to become more media savvy, improve communication and debate,” he said. “The bottom line is, if one guy online is causing a massive problem on a government policy, it’s clear that they’re not combating the issue well.”
Los Angeles Times, Jan. 16, 2009.
Case of Internet economic pundit Minerva roils South Korea
Reporting from Seoul — He was a self-styled Internet prophet, an economic pundit who went by the name of Minerva, after the Roman goddess of wisdom.
In weblogs posted last year that drew a cult-like following, he pontificated on South Korea’s ailing economy, castigated policymakers and forecast dire scenarios that many investors took to heart. He was a genius, they said, a mysterious inside trader with a Matt Drudge-like acumen for scoops that uncannily predicted the global economic crisis.
But prosecutors say he crossed the line. On Thursday, Park Dae-sung appeared in Seoul’s Central District Court, handcuffed and in a light-gray jail jumpsuit, as his attorneys made a motion to dismiss charges that as Minerva he spread false rumors damaging to the government’s reputation in the world financial market.
In a Dec. 29 posting, the online commentator wrote that the government had ordered financial institutions to stop buying dollars as it tried to curb the fall of the won, South Korea’s currency, against the greenback.
The posting devastated the local foreign exchange market, forcing the nation’s financial authority to spend $2 billion to bolster the won as the demand for dollars surged wildly, prosecutors say.
Park’s arrest has pierced the Minerva mystique. He reportedly has told authorities that he had never invested in stocks or gained financially from his postings. Park, who is unemployed, has said he briefly attended community college and never believed his writings would jeopardize his nation’s economy.
“I’m not a serial killer,” he reportedly told his lawyers before the proceeding. “Frankly, I’m scared. It’s scary that I should talk with my hands handcuffed.”
The arrest also has triggered a fierce debate over freedom of expression in South Korea. Park’s supporters insist that he was merely a blogger expressing his opinions and that the charges against him jeopardize the integrity of the nation’s Internet culture.
Prosecutors counter that the government needs to bring more accountability to Internet postings.
Last year a well-known actress committed suicide after what police called an act of cyber-terrorism. Choi Jin-sil hanged herself amid a barrage of postings claiming that she had lent large amounts of money to an actor who took his own life.
Park Chan-jong, a former National Assembly member who is representing Park Dae-sung, said the two cases were different because his client was merely expressing his opinion and was not engaged in personal attacks.
Debate over the two cases comes as government officials are pushing to introduce new clauses in communication laws to enforce harsher punishment for cyber-insults. The country also is preparing to broaden a law that requires Internet service providers to confirm social security numbers and the real names of users.
The Internet is deeply ingrained in South Korean society, where 9 in 10 households have access to broadband. The nation’s computer usage is among the highest in the world, with each user online an average of 34 hours a month, according to a 2007 survey.
Police say the arrest of the man alleged to be Minerva has led to additional cases of cyber-hostility. The Seoul judge who issued the warrant for Park’s arrest was the victim of an Internet assault in which his picture, birth date and academic background were published online with demands for his impeachment, they say.
“A healthy discussion is good, but there should not be a personal attack,” media reports quoted one prosecutor as saying.
And a radio talk show host who dismissed Minerva as a “fortuneteller” was deluged with 1,000 e-mails, many of them attacking the host.
Experts say such responses are predictable in the Internet age. “It is a phenomenon that happens not only in South Korea but globally,” said Chun Sang-chin, a sociology professor at Sogang University in Seoul. “Minerva shows ordinary citizens’ uprising against elite leaders.”
The government is increasingly sensitive to negative reports on the economy, one of the hardest hit in Asia by the global financial crisis. Last year the won’s value fell more than 20% against those of other currencies.
The government crackdown has been lauded by some. One newspaper editorial said studies showed that the level of aggressiveness in an Internet attack was six times stronger than that of a face-to-face confrontation. “Last year, many people took their lives, quit their jobs or left school and moved away because of online violence,” the editorial said.
One survey said 60% of 640 corporate leaders, lawyers and academics queried supported the case against Minerva.
Others say officials are going too far. Analysts say they have been under pressure not to voice negative views on the economy as a result of the case.
Attorney Park told The Times that his client became obsessed with the economy after a friend’s father committed suicide during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Park Dae-sung saw his postings as a way to help ordinary citizens.
In his blog entries, which authorities say drew hundreds of thousands of Internet views, Minerva indicated that he had once worked in the financial field in the U.S., according to news reports.
Park fears he can no longer lead a normal life, his lawyer said. “It’s so burdensome that online writings can develop into a political incident,” Park told his lawyer.
Meanwhile, in another online debate that shows the fickle nature of cyberspace, Web users are questioning whether Park is really Minerva after all.
<ANNEX 4> Press Release by Reporters Without Borders
Jan. 12, 2009.
Blogger arrested for allegedly destabilising currency markets
Reporters Without Borders calls for the release of Park Dae-sung, a widely-read blogger better known by the pseudonym of “Minerva,” who was arrested on 7 January on the grounds that his blog posts “affected foreign exchange markets and the nation’s credibility.” Park faces a possible five-year prison sentence and fine of 27,000 euros (50 million won).
“The authorities seem to want to blame Park for the speculation prompted by his blog entries when all he did was exercise his right to express his personal views,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Park is being tried for rumours which he did not create. His arrest is a serious violation of free expression and bodes ill for the Internet’s future in South Korea.”
Park pleaded not guilty when brought before a Seoul court on 10 January. Among the blog entries that upset the government was one on 29 December in which he said seven of South Korea’s most important finance institutions and export companies had been ordered not to by US dollars in order to stabilise the won (http://bbs1.agora.media.daum.net/gaia/do/debate/read?bbsId=D115&articleId=468442).
A finance ministry official said at the hearing that Park was fully aware that his Internet posts could push up the rate of the dollar and that South Korea would then have to spend much more to stabilise the market. He intended to harm the public interest, the official added. Judicial officials have said that his blog posts from July to December led to 2 billion dollars in losses in currency reserves for South Korea.
Many of Park’s widely-read articles were posted on the forum of Daum.net, one of South Korea’s most popular web portals. In one of his posts, he forecast the collapse of the US bank Lehman Brothers a week before it happened. He also predicted the current worldwide financial crisis. His real identity was unknown until his arrest.
Park claimed in one of his articles that he had an economy decree, had worked on Wall Street and had helped to devise the subprime financial products that are blamed for the current crisis (http://bbs1.agora.media.daum.net/gaia/do/debate/read?bbsId=D115&articleId=478568). The authorities are trying to establish whether he personally profited from South Korea’s financial crisis.