Park Jung-geun is a 23-year old who makes a living taking pictures of babies. Now he stands accused of "acts that benefit the enemy" -- a vague term that the South Korean government uses to arrest people for charges that don't seem to fit elsewhere.
According to the New York Times, Park is accused of reposting messages from the North Korean government's Twitter account. This Twitter account, according to the Times, is run by the North Korean news agency Uriminzokkiri.com, which the South Korean government routinely refers to while reporting news from the North.
A close look at the charges against Mr. Park would indicate that his biggest crime is using satire in a country where the government just doesn't seem to quite grasp the concept.
Some of the postings he is charged with in his efforts to "benefit the enemy"?
A North Korean propaganda poster in which he replaces an image of a soldier with a gun with a sad image of himself and a whiskey bottle.
He has compared himself on Twitter to "the Young General" Kim Jong-un, who inherited the leadership of North Korea from his father. Mr. Park inherited his photo shop from his father, hence the comparison.
According to the Times:
In an interview in December, Mr. Park said his Twitter posts were meant to lampoon the North Korean regime. Mr. Park, a member of the Korean Socialist Party, said he supported its platform, which criticized the Pyongyang government’s human rights policy and its hereditary transfer of power.
“It was humiliating and ludicrous to have to wear a straight face and explain all my jokes to the detectives,” said Mr. Park, who faces up to seven years in jail if convicted.
Mr. Park is currently behind bars as Amnesty International lobbies for his immediate release.
According to the website Mobiledia:
Park's case illustrates the Lee administration's strict enforcement of the national law, as the number of Internet-related political dissent arrests has grown exponentially since Lee took office.
The South Korean government's preoccupation over Twitter dissent is just one example of the larger global trend of governments and organizations struggling to balance security concerns, social media, and freedom of speech.
The South Korean government, under conservative President Lee Myung-bak, has a notoriously bad sense of humor regarding such matters, according to Amensty International, the human rights agency which has intervened in Mr. Park's case. They say that, all joking aside, Mr. Park is intentionally spreading North Korean propaganda.
“This is not a national security case; it’s a sad case of the South Korean authorities’ complete failure to understand sarcasm,” Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director of the human rights group Amnesty International, said in a statement on Thursday. “Imprisoning anyone for peaceful expression of their opinions violates international law but in this case, the charges against Park are simply ludicrous and should be dropped immediately.”
Amnesty International has petitioned the South Korean government to immediately release Park, drop the charges against him, and modify the vague law under which he was charged.