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As Koreans mourn death of leader

Regime in south outlaws sympathy with north

Published Jan 18, 2012 8:23 PM

The U.S. media and political authorities unanimously ridiculed the intense emotions that were displayed in public by the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on the sudden death of their leader, Kim Jong Il. How could such grief be genuine, they asked, implying that somehow the socialist government in the north forced people to weep in public as Kim’s funeral cortege drove by.

This cynical interpretation of the feelings of Koreans on the death of their leader makes no sense, especially given the fact — mostly ignored by the media here — that thousands of people in the south of Korea felt exactly the same way. In fact, the south Korean regime of Lee Myung-bak had its hands full stopping citizens in the south from sending condolence messages to the government in the north.

The Korean Central News Agency of the DPRK reported many instances of organizations and individuals either being prevented from traveling to the north to express condolences or being interrogated for writing such sentiments in online posts.

For example, the South Headquarters of the Pan-National Alliance for Korea’s Reunification (Pomminryon) was investigated by police for phone conversations praising Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un.

A group of elders from Pomminryon, including Chairman Ra Chang Sun, Kang Sun Jong and Ri Chon Jae, tried to travel to Panmunjom, on the north side of the demilitarized zone that separates Korea. They made no secret of it, holding up placards saying, “We are making a journey to pay a consolatory visit in the spirit of June 15” and “How can the ‘government’ disallow consolatory visits?”

The spirit of June 15 refers to the day in 2000 when a Joint Declaration was signed by both the north and south to allow greater contact between the Korean people. That declaration has been virtually nullified by the present right-wing Lee regime in the south, which has returned to rigidly enforcing the hated National Security Law that bans any sympathies with the north.

The elders were blocked by police and army soldiers when they reached a checkpoint in Gyeonggi Province, near the border. They were defiant and shouted, “Step aside!” and “We are going to pave the way for promoting inter-Korean reconciliation through this visit. Why are you standing in our way?” But the police and soldiers stopped them from going any further.

Hwang Hye Ro, co-representative of Korea Solidarity for Independent Reunification and Democracy in south Korea, did get to Pyongyang, the capital of the north, to join in the mourning. The south Korean authorities then issued a warrant for her arrest, charging that she had visited the northern half of her own country, Korea, without permission from the regime in the south.

For those U.S. readers trained to disbelieve what the DPRK’s news sources report, this rigidly repressive stance of the south Korean regime was verified in an article in the Jan. 7 New York Times. Entitled “South Korean Law Casts Wide Net,” the article focused on the regime’s spying on its people’s use of the Internet, which has resulted in arrests and interrogation of those who expressed admiration for the north or its leaders.

The Times article points out that for decades “South Korea’s military dictators used the National Security Law not only to prosecute spies but also to persecute political dissidents. Between 1961 and 2002, at least 13,178 people were indicted, and 182 of them executed, under the law, according to human rights groups. … The law makes it a crime to praise, sympathize or cooperate with North Korea if such acts threaten national security. But it is so vaguely worded that, decades ago, even people who might have praised North Korea while drunk were hauled in for interrogation.”

Now the law is being used to investigate bloggers who praise the DPRK or just download material from websites in the north.

What seems to concern the Times writer the most is that zealous south Korean prosecutors are hauling in people whose praise may have been meant in jest or as satire. But what about the rights of those who really do admire the north and its leaders?

Millions of Koreans, north and south, revere Kim Il Sung, who led the country’s struggle for independence from Japanese colonial rule, and later stood up against U.S. imperialism’s three-year war that tried to bring all of Korea under its dominion. They rejoice in the fact that Kim’s emphasis on self-determination — called Juche — has been carried forward by his descendants.

At a time when the White House and Pentagon have just declared an increase in U.S. military might in the Pacific, including their bases in Korea, it is very understandable that Koreans should mourn the death of Kim Jong Il, who mobilized the people to strengthen their defenses even as he tried mightily to bring about reconciliation between north and south.