S. Korea’s bulldozer buries media dissent


South Korean authorities arrested an unemployed man on Wednesday suspected of being the author of a series of online postings critical of the government’s economic policy.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office arrested the 31-year-old identified by his surname Park on Wednesday and is conducting an investigation into whether he is indeed the netizen known as “Minerva.”

Late last year, a series of postings appeared on the country’s largest portal Daum under the alias Minerva, blasting the government for its handling of the then burgeoning economic crisis. Minerva gained widespread fame with his prophetic predictions of the collapse of US giant Lehman Bros. just days before it occurred.

That event triggered a rapid downturn in South Korea’s financial fortunes as the currency and local stock market entered into a dizzying spiral of decline. On Dec. 29, another posting appeared under the name Minerva claiming the government had issued an order to local financial institutions to stop purchasing dollars in an attempt to stabilize the won.

Government officials were quick to deny the rumor, especially after the currency market began to wobble that same day. South Korea’s has been the worst performing of Asia’s currencies since the global economic crisis erupted.

Park is being held on charges that he violated the country’s telecommunication laws by spreading what officals claim are “false facts.” Asbloggers have noted, facts in themselves are not false and the government’s own statements on the state of the economy in recent weeks have been as dubious as anything on the Internet.

One comment reads, “So it is now illegal to make economic predictions in Korea? Shouldn’t someone in the current administration be arrested for their economic growth predictions?” Another quotes a Korean coworker, “I’m ashamed of Korea and ashamed to be a Korean.”

According to authorities, Park graduated from a vocational high school and a two-year college in Seoul. He once worked for a local manufacturer and has never left the country, contrary to claims made in one posting under the Minerva alias that the author had done a masters and doctorate degree in the US and had experience on Wall Street.

Officials say Park admits to being the person behind the Minerva postings.

The arrest is the latest in a string of measures by the current administration to tighten its grip on the flow of information in one of the world’s most wired countries.

In December, fists went flying in parliament as opposition lawmakers attempted to prevent the ruling party from unilaterally passing a set of bills that included media deregulation. If passed, the legislation would allow major newspapers to take partial ownership of local broadcasters, further reducing the existence of independent voices in the media.

The rule of President Lee Myung-bak, once known as the “bulldozer” for his years in the construction industry, is looking to many here increasingly like a return to the three decades of military rule that ended some twenty years ago. And ironically, for a president who has taken a firm approach to increasing freedom in North Korea, he seems quite ready to squash it here.


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