Letter: South Korea and the limits of dissent

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The Independent Online
Sir: Terry McCarthy painted an idyllic picture of liberal democracy in South Korea on the eve of last week's presidential elections ('S Korean candidate trips over democracy', 18 December). Over the past five years, he asserts, 'South Korea has undergone a remarkable change to embrace political pluralism and accountability of government officials.'

There are, however, definite limits to this 'pluralism'. The regime continues to persecute independent socialists. For example, Mr Il-bung Choi, a publisher of socialist books, was arrested on 27 October. He is likely to face charges under the National Security Law. This legislation justifies the severe restrictions it imposes on civil liberties on the grounds of the military threat from North Korea. Yet Mr Choi is very far from being a supporter of the North Korean regime. He has published a wide range of Western Marxist literature highly critical of Stalinism in all its forms.

There are good reasons for believing that, despite the official professions of liberalism so faithfully repeated by Western journalists such as Mr McCarthy, the South Korean state is still dominated by the military-security apparatus which took control in 1960.

Cases such as Mr Choi's are a test of whether, under its new president, Kim Young Sam, South Korea will begin genuinely to tolerate dissent.

Yours faithfully,


London, N4

21 December