With support from UNESCO’s Global Media Defence Fund, CRNI has recruited a new network of Legal Experts around the world, both practicing lawyers and academics, these bolstering our existing roster of Regional Representative cartoonists. In a series of interviews we get to know a selection of these experts better; today’s subject is Jiyoun Choe of Open Net (ON), Republic of Korea. Ms. Choe is one of the legal counsels at ON, an NGO dedicated to freedom of expression and reforming South Korean law on data surveillance, net neutrality, intellectual property and tech innovation.
1. Our cartoonists are consistently expressing anxiety about criminalisation. In your view, are they right to be worried?
For any anxious cartoonists out there, I am saddened to say they are right to be concerned. In addition to existing criminal insult and defamation laws many nations around the world are attempting to tackle disinformation and “fake news” through legislation. This often includes criminal prosecution as a means of deterrent. Under such legal frameworks, it is now safe to assume that cartoonists depicting those in power in a critical manner are also putting their freedoms at risk in doing so.
2. What is the greatest impediment to freedom of expression in your location?
South Korea criminalizes “publicly alleging facts” as defamation. This means that a person who publicly “defames” another can be imprisoned for up to two years unless the allegations can be shown to have been in the public interest. The defamation law makes it difficult to criticize those in power such as government officials. Victims of sexual assault, whistle-blowers etcetera must do so with the added burden of potential criminal prosecution. When speaking the truth can result in time in prison, self-censorship becomes natural and speaking out becomes a feat or courage.
3. Describe the work of your organisation; in particular tell us about any efforts on behalf of minority or marginalised people.
Open Net seeks to make the internet a freer place by providing a forum for discussion and collaboration to explore effective policies and solutions. Open Net takes on tasks related to free speech, net neutrality, and innovation and regulation among others. Recent efforts include helping prevent amendments to Korea’s Press Arbitration Act that sought to impose punitive damages to journalists and news outlets for reporting “fake news”, questioning the government’s handling of citizens’ personal data during the COVID-19 pandemic, and filing a Constitutional Complaint on the mandatory shut-down law that banned children under the age of 16 from playing online games between midnight and 6 A.M.
4. Do you consider yourself a human rights defender (HRD)? If so and you are at liberty to describe the experience, have you been the victim of harassment or threat because of your work?
With freedom of speech considered a human right, my answer to the first part of the question would have to be yes. Happily I have yet to consider myself a victim of real threat. Most days, online insults or threats hurled my way elicit an ironic smile, knowing that this anonymous troll will most likely be safe from criminal prosecution.
5. Have you been involved in any note-worthy cases concerning cartoonists, artists or journalists?
As yet we have not been involved in any note-worthy cases concerning cartoonists. You need not worry though, with Open Net’s support, I hope to be of help to any and all cartoonists, artists, and journalists that come to Cartoonists Rights Network International seeking assistance.
6. Have you a favourite cartoonist? If so who, and what do you admire about them?
Full disclosure – with a toddler at home, the closest to a cartoon I get to read these days comes in the form of pre-school animation. My child and I watch a lot of Blue’s Clues. I also grew up watching the show as a kid, so I really appreciate the positive learning opportunities Blue and his friend Josh provide!
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