Reporters Without Borders welcomes blogger Park Dae-sung's acquittal today by the Seoul central district court on charges of affecting “foreign exchange markets” and undermining “the nation's credibility” by posting false information online. Prosecutors had requested an 18-month prison sentence for Park, who is better known by his blog name of “Minerva.”
“This acquittal is a sign that the South Korean courts are capable of issuing independent verdicts based on the facts, without yielding to political pressure,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We hope this verdict will encourage the authorities not to prosecute or intimidate Internet users any more.”
Judge Yoo Young-hyun said in his ruling that he did not think Park “intended to damage the public interest” or was “aware the information was misleading when he wrote the postings.” Park was due to be freed after spending more than three months in prison.
“I am just happy,” his mother told journalists.
Reporters Without Borders, which had a representative monitoring the trial, called for Park's acquittal in a 17 April press release.
17.04. Court urged to acquit jailed blogger known as “Minerva”
Reporters Without Borders calls for the acquittal of blogger Park Dae-sung, better known by the pseudonym of Minerva, who has been tried on charges of affecting “foreign exchange markets” and undermining “the nation's credibility” by posting false information online. A Seoul court is due to issue its verdict on Monday (20 April).
After attending some of the hearings and gaining access to confidential information about the case, Reporters Without Borders is convinced that Park is innocent. On 13 April, the prosecutor requested an 18-month jail sentence under an electricity and communications law that dates back to a time when the Internet did not exist.
“During the trial, even the prosecution witnesses seemed hard put to claim that Park was to blame for any destabilisation of the markets,” the press freedom organisation said. “Some of the comments he posted on discussion forums were exaggerated, but they were not responsible for the financial crisis that South Korea has suffered.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “If judge Yoo Young-hyun sentences Park to a jail term, a blogger's comments will have received an unjust and disproportionate punishment and the judicial system will have become an accomplice to a government strategy designed to intimidate Internet users who express their views on financial subjects.”
Among the blog posts cited during the trial was one on 29 December in which Park claimed that seven of South Korea's most important finance institutions and export companies had been ordered not to by US dollars in order to stabilise the won. Nonetheless, the won did not collapse during the 29 December trading session and in fact was higher against the US dollar at the end of the day than it was before Park's post.
Kim Tae Dong, a former presidential adviser on economic issues, told Reporters Without Borders there was no credible hard evidence to support the charges against Park. In a comment that can be seen on YouTube, Kim argues that the “Minerva” case is crucial for free expression in South Korea
Arrested on 7 January 2009, Park pleaded not guilty.
Many of Park's widely-read articles were posted on the forum of Daum.net, one of South Korea's most popular web portals. In one of his posts, he forecast the collapse of the US bank Lehman Brothers a week before it happened. He also predicted the current worldwide financial crisis. His real identity was unknown until his arrest.