Recently, two events have occurred in China and one in Guatemala, which bear a striking similarity between events here in South Korea and give pause to consider the differences and similarities between the countries’ governments.
First, according to Bob Chen at Globalvoicesonline.org, the local government in Hangzhou, China wants to institute a real-name registration system for the use of the internet, meaning all local internet users and bloggers would be required to register with their real names — just like the Korea Communications Commission proposes that all Korean internet users should do. Apparently the effort in China is part of an ongoing attempt by parts of the Chinese Communist Party to stifle, if not control online commentary, as per one Chinese critic of this new local law:
It is illegal to encourage the public to viciously comment on others, to publish about others privacy, or commit personal attacks on others by alluding or imputation. . . I want to ask the experts how to define ‘viciously comment’ under the new law in a way compatible with the principle of legislation? If I say, there is a bad, fat guy surnamed Wang in Hangzhou, am I then alluding to the head of Hangzhou government who happens also to be fat and surnamed Wang?
. . . How could we live with this law? How could we speak up in the future? Are we allowed to criticize anyone? Who can guarantee our right to complain?
Regarding the real-name initiative in South Korea, as per an editorial in the Joongang Ilbo about Choi Jin-sil and regulating slander:
The Internet is inundated with insults, defamations and groundless rumors. This must be corrected. . . .
The government and the ruling party are pushing for the establishment of a new law about contempt on the Internet and that is worth examining. Under criminal law, contempt occurs when someone insults another person face-to-face. This makes it difficult to punish those who insult other people online. As insulting words on the Internet spread to the public more easily and more rapidly than spoken ones, the new law should treat Internet libel the same as printed libel.
Despite the concern over anonymous internet libel, there is still very much the possibility of free speech infringement and the Korean Government’s desire to regulate online speech for the sake of political expediency.
A second similarity, in terms of public outrage and protest, as reported by Oiwan Lam, a 25 year-old man was hit and killed by cars drag racing in Han Zhou, PRC. A local propaganda department (CCP), ordered that all reporting of the incident should cease, whereas local citizens have been greatly incensed by the callous attitudes of the “rich” racers who have shown only indifference to the death and the refusal of the local government to take action. Due to such, a candlelight protest and vigil was held though smaller than what has occurred in Seoul. The protests in Seoul would never have been as large if the government had been as ruthless as the PRC Government in crushing the complaints of its citizens.
There is also the issue of financial panic or how over reaction, on the part of a government, sometimes knows no limits. Recently the Korean blogger “Minerva” was held after he had astutely (?) forecasted the fate of Lehman Brothers and “prominent news anchors and even government officials and financial policy makers here frequently quoted his remarks”1. Korean prosecutors argued that “Minerva” caused harm to the public and society by his remarks on the economic situation here in Korea. Subsequently, the courts in Korea exonerated “Minerva” of having caused harm and of having committed a crime.
Consider then the striking similarity that is unfolding currently in Guatemala regarding a Guatemalan blogger named “Jeanfer” who was arrested for causing “financial panic” by suggesting that people that had money in Banrural (a state-controled bank) should withdraw their money due to the recent postumous youtube posting of a lawyer who has claimed that the president of Guatemala (Alvaro Colum, and his aide, had him assasinated. Also reported:
A number of users are re-tweeting rumors that military police are hunting down other Twitterers, or that other arrests have already happened. Some are saying that street vendors in Guatemala are selling DVDs of Rosenberg’s “pre-death tape” which accuses the Guatemalan president for his impending death. Other retweeted rumors include word that some of these street vendors are being arrested as “panic-spreaders.”
Compared to the Mad Cow Demonstrations of last year, there are telling differences between the Guatemalan and Korean Government Government’s response to adversity — which favorably demonstrate that democracy in Korea does work, albeit awkwardly — but it also demonstrates similarities that show how government, in general, often over reacts to perceived threats to economic stability or their grasp upon power. Clearly, the Mad Cow demonstration in Seoul was the harbinger of the new role of online activism in applying pressure upon governments around the world. It also demonstrates how a people will react if they feel their voice is not being heard by their government and why it is important for government to listen carefully and attempt to communicate more effectively with its citizens.