Rocket Man: Seoul singer attacked for praising missile test launch

Broke, isolated and basking in world opprobrium following its rocket launch this month, North Korea can at least count on one friend on the other side of the bamboo curtain: an outspoken rock star.

Shin Hae-chul, dubbed the John Lennon of Korea by his fans, has braved scorching criticism and a possible seven-year jail sentence by defending Pyongyang's attempt to create a nuclear deterrent.

On his widely read website, Shin said "his brethren" in the porcupine state had a right to test rockets, and called nuclear weapons the best defence against "powerful and ruthless" countries.

"As a member of the same ethnic group, I congratulate the Democratic People's Public of Korea on its successful launch of a rocket, in line with its sovereignty and appropriate international laws," he wrote.

Those comments, and more defending them since, have infuriated conservatives who want the rocker prosecuted under the nation's arcane national security laws.

"Shin spread the falsehood that the North's launch was lawful," said Bong Tae-hong, a spokesman for a group of conservative organisations, including Right Korea. "His remarks praise the North, which poses a substantial threat to South Korea's security and existence," he told The Korea Times. "This is a breach of the law."

A politician for the ruling Grand National Party told public radio that he should be made to live under the Kim Jong-Il regime. "The North created the deadly weapon with money the South gave it to help poor and starving North Koreans," claimed Song Young-sun. "The Kim regime is threatening our economy, security and our spirit but Shin has ignored these factors in his remarks."

The UN Security Council has condemned the North Korean launch on 5 April, widely seen as a disguised long-range missile test. Pyongyang responded to the censure by ordering UN weapons inspectors to leave and saying it would quit the six-party nuclear talks.

Shin has previously defended pot smoking and used television commercials to slam the nation's strict education system for putting students through "exam hell". In all these issues – including North Korea's rocket launch – he stands for a sizeable section of popular opinion, especially among the young.

South Korean laws ban any public praise of the hermit state. Seoul prosecutors, under pressure from conservatives, are mulling whether to charge the 41-year-old star, who has since defended his remarks. "I support North Korea but not the dictatorial Kim Jong Il regime and I've never praised it," he told his fans this week.

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