SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea plans to deport a Korean-American woman accused of praising rival North Korea in a recent lecture, officials said Friday, in the latest in a series of cases that critics say infringe on freedom of speech.
The Korea Immigration Service decided to deport Shin Eun-mi, a California resident, after determining that her comments violated South Korea's Security Law, agency official Kim Du-yeol said. He declined to say when she would be deported, citing privacy issues.
The Korean Peninsula remains technically in a state of war, split along the world's most heavily fortified border, because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. In South Korea, praising North Korea can be punished by up to seven years in prison under the Security Law.
Critics have urged that the law be scrapped, saying it violates freedom of expression. Supporters argue that it is needed because of continuing threats from North Korea. Past authoritarian leaders in South Korea frequently used the law to suppress political rivals.
Shin posted stories about her trips to North Korea on OhmyNews, a popular South Korean online news site. Her book on her trips was included in a government-designated reading list in 2013, but the culture ministry removed it this week amid criticism of it. Ministry officials said they will seek to retrieve 1,200 copies that were distributed to libraries across South Korea.
During a November lecture in Seoul, Shin said many North Korean defectors living in South Korea had told her they want to go back home and that North Koreans hope new leader Kim Jong Un will bring change. She also praised the taste of North Korean beer and the cleanliness of North Korea's rivers.
Shin has said she had no intention of praising the country and was only expressing what she felt during her travels there.
Conservatives have sided with government moves to expel Shin, accusing her of ignoring North Korea's abysmal human rights conditions. But her impending deportation drew sharp criticism from liberals who say the conservative government of President Park Geun-hye is clamping down on freedom of speech.
"The decision to deport her is a clear violation of human rights," the Hankyoreh newspaper said in an editorial Friday. "The government is taking the lead in trampling on human rights."
In October, prosecutors indicted a Japanese journalist on charges he defamed Park by reporting rumors that she was absent for seven hours on the day of a ferry disaster last April because she was with a man. Last month, the Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of a small leftist party that officials say advocated a North Korean-style socialist system.
In an article published by OhmyNews, Shin said she will never return to South Korea because her "mother country" no longer wants her.
In December, a high school student threw a homemade explosive device toward a podium where she was speaking, injuring two people. Shin was unhurt. The student was sent to a juvenile detention center and is awaiting trial.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.