Home > Freedom of Expression > It’s better to be quiet –Minerva: Law against spreading false information ruled unconstitutional

It’s better to be quiet –Minerva: Law against spreading false information ruled unconstitutional

Dae Sung Park (right), known as online economic expert “Minerva,” and his lawyer Park Chan Jong on 28th December 2010 meet reporters following the Constitutional Court ruling that the restriction on distribution of incorrect information online is unconstitutional.(Yonhap News Agency)

By: Min Hee Park

On 28th December 2010, the Constitutional Court ruled an article of the Telecommunications Law which criminalized those who distribute misleading content online as unconstitutional.

The epoch-making ruling is expected to help Dae Sung Park, more commonly known as online economic expert Minerva. According to the Telecommunications Law, Article 47, Clause 1, people who spread false information with the intention of “damaging public interest” through the telecommunication infrastructure are subject to a fine of up to a 50 million won (40,000USD) or up to five years of imprisonment.

However, the Constitutional Court judged the term “public interest” as vague and in violation of the constitutional principle to be “clear and definite” The constitutional Court judges concluded that “the definition and interpretation of public interest differs from person to person.”

The 7-2 ruling, which nullified the previous Telecommunication Law, is expected to create a stir, because under Myung Bak Lee’s administration, many people have been prosecuted over such violations.

In the case of Minerva, Dae Sung Park became famous for his online criticisms of the Lee administration’s economic policies, on Korea’s second largest portal site Daum between July and December 2008. Many of his predictions and analysis about the economic situation were proven false, but his accurate prediction about the bankruptcy petition of the Lehman Brothers and the collapse of the monetary value of the Korean won against the U.S. dollar allowed him to gain huge popularity.

The prosecution sought conviction over spreading misleading information related to the economic situations that allegedly misguided investors in Korea. However, Dae Sung Park and his lawyer insisted that the relevant law is a suppression of peoples’ freedom of expression: finally, the Constitutional Court concluded the article of the Telecommunications Law– which had been the grounds of the penalty for Dae Sung Park— unconstitutional.

Thirty four people who were prosecuted for spreading false information on the internet are expected to be affected by the constitutional court decision. Some of the false information released by these people were related to the sunken warship Cheon-An, which was assumed to be attacked by North Korea in March 2010, and North Korea’s shelling of the western island of Yeonpyeong in South Korea on November 2010

Most of Korea’s civic groups harshly resisted Dae Sung Park’s prosecution when he was prosecuted three years ago, contending that the prosecution is a violation of freedom of expression which is the essential part of our fundamental rights. Currently, most civic groups have been very satisfied with the Constitutional Courts decision.

Dae Sung Park (Right), known as online economic expert “Minerva”, walked out of the Seoul detention center in Ui Wang-Si Gyeong gi-Do and met his family, after getting acquitted on 20th April 2009.(Yonhap News Agency)

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