The pledge was announced on 19 July, the day RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire and two members of RSF’s Emeritus Board, Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi and Chinese human rights defender Wu’er Kaixi, arrived in South Korea.
President Moon Jae-in’s transition team confirmed that the new president wants South Korea to recover its old position by the end of his five-year term in May 2022. Ranked 31st in 2006, South Korea has fallen for the past decade and is ranked 63rd in the 2017 index.
Governmental intolerance of criticism climaxed during a battle from 2014 to 2016 between President Park Geun-hye and media outlets that exposed cases of corruption implicating the president. She ended up being removed from office despite a great deal of pressure and threats against the journalists responsible for the revelations.
Elected on 9 May, President Moon is a respected human rights defender who was imprisoned twice during the Park Chung-hee dictatorship.
Christophe Deloire wrote to him shortly after his election saying he hoped that “history will regard your term of office as the one in which freedom of expression was renewed in South Korea, allowing your nation to be the unreserved holder of the title of ‘the world’s most wired country.”
Meeting with persecuted journalists
The pledge is fourth in a list of the new administration’s 100 priorities that has been published by the Consultative Committee on State Affairs Planning, a body that is preparing implementation of the president’s promises for his five-year term. Na Jongmin, the deputy minister of culture, sport and tourism, confirmed the president’s pledge when he received the RSF delegation.
“We hope the Moon administration will quickly translate this announcement into concrete actions,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau. “The urgent tasks include decriminalizing defamation and repealing laws that, on national security grounds, provide for extremely harsh penalties for those who report sensitive information, especially about North Korea.”
The RSF delegation signed a friendship agreement with the Journalists' Association of Korea and met with the union that represents journalists working for the state-owned Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). This union is demanding the rehabilitation and reinstatement of many journalists who were fired or sanctioned as a result of government pressure during the two previous administrations.
The delegation also visited Taiwan and Japan.