Financial blogger arrested in South Korea
By Christian Oliver in Seoul(Financial Times, UK)
Published: January 8 2009 17:54 | Last updated: January 8 2009 17:54
South Korea said on Thursday it had arrested an elusive blogger accused of undermining the country’s financial markets with his doom-mongering, ending a case that has illustrated government unease with the growing influence of online gossip in the world’s most-wired economy.
The case comes amid government efforts to combat negative comments on South Korea’s ailing economy in the media and from private sector economists. The export-dependent economy has been among the hardest hit in Asia by the global financial crisis.
The arrest and possible imprisonment of a web commentator will raise profound questions about freedom of speech in Korea, where bills that would crack down on civil rights are stirring tensions between lawmakers.
“Minerva”, who was arrested on Wednesday, has become a celebrated online guru in South Korea during the crisis. He gained instant kudos for what were seen as uncannily accurate utterances on the fall of Lehman Brothers and the crash of the Korean won, which plunged 26 per cent against the dollar last year.
Although some had speculated he might be a civil servant or even a market insider, authorities said Minerva was an unemployed university graduate without any substantial expertise in economics. Prosecutors declined to disclose his name, saying only that his surname was Park, the Korean equivalent of “Jones”.
Government officials were incensed by an incorrect article Minerva wrote claiming they had ordered financial institutions to stop buying dollars. Authorities have said they are considering charging him with spreading false information.
The court will decide on Friday what formal charges he could face. If found guilty of contravening Korea’s communications law, which bans the spreading of false information online, he could face seven years in jail.
The Korean government’s panic over Minerva and other web-based rumour-mongers reflects a greater concern about the political role of the internet in South Korea, the country with the world’s greatest per capita access to cyberspace.
An adviser to President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative former businessman, admitted to the Financial Times last month the government was trying to determine how to counter the influence of internet chat-rooms in Korean society, famed for its fiery temper.Mr Lee was shaken last year by street protests over imports of US beef. The government had been unprepared for the degree to which passions could be inflamed in chat-rooms and mass demonstrations orchestrated online within hours.
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