National Security Act (South Korea)

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National Security Act
Revised RomanizationGukga Boanbeop
McCune–ReischauerKukka Poanbŏp

The National Security Act (NSA) is a controversial South Korean law enforced since 1948 with the avowed purpose "to secure the security of the State and the subsistence and freedom of nationals, by regulating any anticipated activities compromising the safety of the State."[1] However, the law now has a newly inserted article that limits its arbitrary application. "In the construction and application of this Act, it shall be limited at a minimum of construction and application for attaining the aforementioned purpose, and shall not be permitted to construe extensively this Act, or to restrict unreasonably the fundamental human rights of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution."[1]

In 2004, legislators of the then-majority Uri Party made a gesture to annul the law, but failed in the face owing to fierce Grand National Party opposition. Some poll results between that year and 2005 from the conservative media cartel, informally dubbed Chojoongdong, claimed that more than half of the Korean people were against the abolition of the act, leading to it stay unresolved.[2][3]

While the South Korean constitution guarantees freedom of speech and assembly for its citizens, behaviors or speeches in favor of North Korea, left-wing policies or Communism can be punished by the National Security Law. Political parties such as the Unified Progressive Party have been banned under the law, after one of its lawmakers Lee Seok-ki was accused of plotting a "pro-North Korean rebellion" under the 2013 South Korean sabotage plot.[4]

Amnesty International reported that 90 people were charged under the law in 2011, with some leading to imprisonment, a sharp increase by 95.6% between 2008 and 2011. It described the National Security Act as a tool to "harass and arbitrarily prosecute individuals and civil society organizations who are peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, opinion and association." and to "remove people who are perceived to threaten established political views, to prevent people from taking part in discussions surrounding relations with North Korea."[5]


The "anti-government organizations" law aims to suppress have the character of "a domestic or foreign organization or group which uses fraudulently the title of the government or aims at a rebellion against the State, and which is provided with a command and leadership system."[1]

In other words, the law made communism illegal. To that end, all of the following were made illegal: recognition of North Korea as a political entity; organizations advocating the overthrow of the government; the printing, distributing, and ownership of "anti-government" material; and any failure to report such violations by others. It has been reformed and strengthened over the past few decades, with the Anti-communism Law being merged with it during the 1980s.[1][6]

According to certain analysts, the National Security Act can be viewed as a product of the Cold War and the national division of Korea. After World War II, Korean politics was polarized between left and right by the Cold War, forcing Koreans to adopt the ideology of being left or right. This created “one nation-two states” on the Korean peninsula. The resulting tension culminated in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953.[7]

This law has been acknowledged by some politicians, scholars, and activists as a symbol of the anti-communism of South Korea's dictatorial First Republic and a potential restriction on freedom of speech since the law not only regulates activities that directly threaten the safety of the State but also punishes those who praise or incite an anti-state group. Indeed, according to a report written by Amnesty International, the most widely used clause of the National Security Act is:

Any person who praises, incites or propagates the activities of an antigovernment organization, a member thereof or of the person who has received an order from it, or who acts in concert with it, or propagates or instigates a rebellion against the State, with the knowledge of the fact that it may endanger the existence and security of the State or democratic fundamental order, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than seven years.[5]


The South Korean High Court has a ruling history since 1978 that has classified 1,220 books and print material as "Enemy's Expressions" by force of precedence. Two state-established research institutes decide what books and print materials meet the criteria of "Enemy's Expressions": the Democratic Ideology Institute, established in 1997 under the direct orders of the Chief Prosecutor, and the Public Safety Affairs Institute of the Korea National Police University.[citation needed]

In 2012, a South Korean man, Park Jung-geun, was indicted and charged under the National Security Law for reposting altered North Korean propaganda on social media. The man, who described his use of the material as intended to lampoon the North Korean regime, received a ten-month suspended prison sentence.[8] [9]


During the Lee Myung-bak government, some South Korean military officers were arrested for suspected pro-North Korean or pro-Marxist–Leninist activities.[10]


Some scholars and international organizations also have negative view towards the law. Some argue that National Security Act has been justifying the violation on human rights under the name of defense against the perceived threat of North Korea and that it functions as an obstacle for peaceful reunification with North Korea.[7]

  • In 2002, Mr. Lee, a new recruit in the South Korean army, was sentenced to two years in prison for having said, "I think Korean separation is not North Korean but American fault" to fellow soldiers. The Military Prosecutor's Office could not charge him for his criticism, but it searched Mr. Lee's civilian house and found various books and charged him in violation of the NSA under Article 7, Clauses 1 and 5.
  • On June 12, 2011, the South Korean government officially apologized to the family members of South Korean citizen, Kim Bok-jae who was wrongfully accused of being a spy for North Korea under the NSA.[11]
  • On August 15, 2011, the South Korean government officially apologized to a 54-year-old South Korean citizen, Ku Myeong-u (구명우) who was wrongfully accused of being a spy for North Korea by working in a Chongryon-affiliated company in Japan.[12]
  • On October 10, 2011, the Changweon Regional Court formally posthumously apologized to the now-deceased Lee Sang-cheol (이상철) who was a South Korean fisherman who was kidnapped by North Koreans for one year but was wrongfully accused as a spy by the regional prosecutors.[14][15]
  • On November 10, 2011, the Supreme Court made a decision that the South Korean government should compensate the 33 individuals who were involved in the Osonghoe Incident (오송회 사건) in 1982.[16]
  • On December 25, 2011, the Gwangju High Court issued an apology to two South Korean fishermen (one deceased) with the last names of Kim and Lee who were wrongfully accused for being North Korean spies during the fourth and the fifth republic.[17]
  • On May 22, 2012, the Supreme Court of South Korea issued an apology to the deceased Byeon Du-gab (변두갑) who was wrongfully arrested for an alleged spying for a North Korean spy in 1970.[18]
  • In 2012, Ro Su-hui was arrested after he returned from an unauthorized visit to North Korea. The arrest was described by NK News as "a clear but unnecessary propaganda victory" for North Korea.[19]


The Journalists Association of Korea made an official statement in 2007 that the National Security Act reduced the status of South Korea to "a third world country" due to its infringement of human rights.[20] Rhyu Si-min of the People's Participation Party was interviewed by the Pyeonghwa Bangsong radio and criticized the existence of the NSA as "a 60 year old political tool" of public oppression.[21] Louisa Lim of the American NPR also criticized the increased use of the NSA under the Lee Myung-bak government.[22][23] One of the 33 victims of the Osonghoe Incident, Chae Gyu-gu, said that "the National Security Act must disappear" in order to prevent innocent South Korean citizens from being falsely accused.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d 국가보안법 Archived 2014-09-14 at the Wayback Machine, Korea Ministry of Government Legislation Accessed 6 Oct, 2014.
  2. ^ The Chosun Ilbo article - National Security Act: Amendments rather than Abrogation - 57% Archived 2007-08-22 at the Wayback Machine (in Korean)
  3. ^ The Dong-A Ilbo article Archived 2011-06-08 at the Wayback Machine (in Korean)
  4. ^ "South Korean politician accused of plotting pro-North rebellion". The Guardian. September 5, 2013. Archived from the original on 11 November 2020. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  6. ^ 반공법 Archived 2014-10-13 at the Wayback Machine, Korea Ministry of Government Legislation Accessed 7 Oct, 2014.
  7. ^ a b [Cho, 2997], Tension Between the National Security Law and Constitutionalism in South Korea: Security For What. BU Int'l LJ, 15, p.125..
  8. ^ Sang-Hun, Choe (2012-02-02). "South Korean Indicted Over Twitter Posts From North". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2018-12-26. Retrieved 2020-07-28.
  9. ^ Sang-Hun, Choe (2012-11-21). "South Korean Gets Suspended Sentence in Twitter Case". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2020-09-29. Retrieved 2020-07-28.
  10. ^ Kwak (곽), Jae-hun (재훈) (2011-03-15). 위관급 장교 또 '국보법 위반' 기소…軍 매카시즘 바람. Pressian (in Korean). Archived from the original on 2012-03-31. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
  11. ^ Lee (이), Ung (웅) (2011-06-12). `좌익활동 옥살이. Yonhap News (in Korean). Archived from the original on 2012-08-13. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  12. ^ Na (나), Hwak-jin (확진) (2011-08-18). `간첩 누명' 구명우씨 24년만에 무죄. Yonhap News (in Korean). Archived from the original on 2012-08-13. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  13. ^ Na (나), Hwak-jin (확진) (2011-09-23). 재일동포 간첩사건 34년만에 무죄. Yonhap News (in Korean). Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  14. ^ Kim (김), Jeong-hun (정훈) (2011-10-20). ‘간첩 누명’ 납북어부, 27년 만에 무죄. The Kyunghyang Sinmun (in Korean). Archived from the original on 2011-10-24. Retrieved 2011-10-21.
  15. ^ Park (박), Yu-ri (유리) (2011-10-28). 죽은 어부의 절규 … "나는 간첩이 아니다". Kuki News (in Korean). Archived from the original on 2021-01-19. Retrieved 2011-11-19.
  16. ^ a b Im (임), Sang-hun (상훈) (2011-11-11). "이 땅에서 빨갱이로 몰려 산다는 것은" 오송회 사건 피해자의 절규. Nocut News (in Korean). Archived from the original on 2012-04-07. Retrieved 2011-11-12.
  17. ^ Sohn (손), Sang-weon (상원) (2011-12-25). 납북어부 간첩사건 연루 2명 재심서 무죄. Yonhap News (in Korean). Archived from the original on 2021-01-19. Retrieved 2012-01-15.
  18. ^ Park (박), Su-jin (수진) (2012-05-22). 대법, 간첩 누명 故변두갑씨 27년만에 무죄 확정. Yonhap News (in Korean). Archived from the original on 2014-02-21. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  19. ^ "An Unnecessary Propaganda Victory for Pyongyang". NK News. 6 July 2012. Archived from the original on 13 March 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  20. ^ 국보법 존속은 인권 후진국 자처하는 것. Journalists Association of Korea (한국기자협회) (in Korean). 2007-05-23. Archived from the original on 2012-06-15. Retrieved 2011-11-19.
  21. ^ Chin (진), Na-ri (나리) (2011-08-01). "유시민 "MB정권, 60년 묵은 국보법 악용 또 발동"". Newsface (in Korean). Retrieved 2011-10-05.
  22. ^ Lim, Louisa) (2011-12-01). "In South Korea, Old Law Leads To New Crackdown". National Public Radio. Archived from the original on 2011-12-02. Retrieved 2011-12-03.
  23. ^ Kwon (권), Min-cheol (민철); Lee Ji-hye (이지혜) (2011-12-03). 美 방송, "MB정부서 매카시즘 공포" 매섭게 비판. Nocut News (in Korean). Archived from the original on 2011-12-05. Retrieved 2011-12-03.
  • Park(박), Jae-kyu(재규) (2009-06-07). "Time to change Security Act". Yonhap News.

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