South Korea: Censorship of Gay and Lesbian Internet Sites Takes Effect

Protest Bigotry and Silence

UPDATE

On November 1, 2001, the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) formally enacted an internet content rating system classifying gay and lesbian websites as "harmful media" and mandating their blockage--all under the guise of protecting youth. The Ministry acted after an April 2001 decision by the Korean Information and Communications Ethics Committee (ICEC)--an officially independent body with wide censorship powers--which classified homosexuality under the category of "obscenity and perversion" in its "Criteria for Indecent Internet Sites." Activists in Korea trace the roots of this definition to a 1997 law that classifies descriptions of "homosexual love" as "harmful to youth." The MIC accepted this classification in July.

Enforcement of these measures has been swift. In November, the owner of Exzone.com, the first and largest gay website in Korea, received a notice stating that if it does not immediately mark itself as a 'harmful site' and install filtering software to prevent youth access, he would be penalized with a fine of approximately US$10,000 or two years' imprisonment.

Starting in late October, a coalition of human rights activists in Korea organized a 60-day hunger strike at the historic Myongdong Catholic Church to protest this censorship. Sixty individuals, including several lesbian and gay activists, engaged in successive, public one-day hunger strikes. Pictures and further information can be found at the following websites:

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission joins the Lesbian and Gay Alliance Against Discrimination in Korea (LGAAD), a coalition of over twenty lesbian and gay rights organizations (as well as website masters), in renewing its urgent call for letters of protest to end this internet censorship, revise the repressive 1997 law, and protect freedom of expression in Korea.

ACTION

Letters of protest from the international human rights community to the addresses listed below are urgently requested. A sample letter is provided below.

If you would like to write your own letter or modify the sample letter, please demand an end to this system of compulsory site blocking by the Korean government; a revision of measures in the Youth Protection Law of Korea that designate homosexuality a harmful influence to youth; and the adoption of provisions barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Korea.

Please also express your opposition to any attempt to restrict Korean youth's access to information on sexual health and sexual orientation.

Write to:

President Kim Dae-Jung
President of the Republic of Korea
E-mail messages can be send from the following web address:
http://www.cwd.go.kr/cgi-bin/php/engletter/writeform.php3
Dr. Seungtaik Yang
Minister of Information and Communications
Republic of Korea
100 Sejongno, Jongnogu
Seoul 110-777
Korea
E-mail: minister@mic.go.kr
Chairman
Information and Communications Ethics Committee
6th Floor, Donga Tower
1321-6 Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu
Seoul 137-070
Korea
Fax: +82-2-3415-0199
E-mail: webmaster@icec.or.kr, chairman@icec.or.kr
Soung-Yee Kim
Chairman
Commission on Youth Protection
Republic of Korea
303 Central Government Complex
77-6 Sejongno, Jongnogu
Seoul 110-760
Korea
Fax: +82-2-735-6265
E-mail: dckim@youth.go.kr, kimsyee@youth.go.kr

Please send copies of letters to:

Lesbian and Gay Alliance Against Discrimination in Korea (LGAAD)
5th Floor, 95 Beonji
Hongin-Dong, Chung-Gu
Seoul 100-450
Korea
Tel: +82-2-2235-7422
Email: husoyi@yahoo.com (LGAAD International Coalition Coordinator)

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Sir,

I am writing as a member of the international human rights community to protest the Republic of Korea's internet content rating system, which was enacted on November 1. The Information and Communications Ethics Committee has classified homosexuality in the category of "obscenity and perversion" in its "Criteria for Indecent Internet Sites," and called for the blockage of all gay and lesbian internet sites in Korea. Since the introduction of the Internet Content Filtering Ordinance, access has been blocked to many gay websites based in Korea. In November, Exzone.com, the first and largest gay and lesbian website in Korea, received a notice stipulating a heavy fine or two-year prison term for failure to comply with these measures. I demand an end to this blatant form of censorship.

These actions violate the right to freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Korea is a signatory. The rights of the lesbian and gay communities are not acceptable 'trade-offs' to satisfy concerns about protecting youth from viewing material considered offensive. In fact, blocking information about sexual orientation on the internet denies access to vital, even life-saving information and community, particularly for the vulnerable population of lesbian and gay youth.

The Youth Protection Act of 1997 specifically lists information about "homosexual love" as harmful to youth. I call upon your government to revise the Act to remove this discriminatory measure. Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights recognize that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to protection from discrimination. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has held this provision to protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Finally, because Korean lesbians and gays face many forms of prejudice, I encourage the Korean government to adopt protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I appreciate your efforts to further the promise of universality of human rights and to extend protections against discrimination to every citizen in Korea, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Please send a written response informing me of the actions you intend to take in response to these concerns. Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,