Feb. 2, 2012 at 2:06 PM ET
Amnesty International on Thursday called for the release of a South Korean activist accused of breaking security laws by re-tweeting messages from the North Korean government’s Twitter account.
The human rights campaign group said Park Jeonggeun, an activist with the Socialist Party, intended to lampoon North Korea's recently-deceased dictator by re-posting the message “long live Kim Jong-il” to his own followers.
The New York Times reported that Jeonggeun, who it said was a photographer who specialized in taking pictures of babies, was detained last month on charges of violating the National Security Law which bans undefined “acts that benefit the enemy”.
It reported that the Twitter account Mr. Park was accused of re-tweeting is run by the North Korean government Web site, Uriminzokkiri.com, which South Korean news media regularly cite for their stories.
Amnesty International said it had spoken to Jeonggeun, who was formally charged on Wednesday. It said he has been held at Seoul Detention Centre since 11 January and could face up to seven years in jail.
Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director, said: “This is not a national security case, it’s a sad case of the South Korean authorities’ complete failure to understand sarcasm.
“Imprisoning anyone for peaceful expression of their opinions violates international law but in this case, the charges against Park Jeonggeun are simply ludicrous and should be dropped immediately.
“Park is a member of a party which openly criticises North Korea but the absurd case against him is not an isolated one. For too long South Korean authorities have been using the National Security Law to restrict basic freedoms and gag civil society in the name of national security.”
In an article on its website, Amnesty International quoted the activist as saying: “My intention was to lampoon North Korea's leaders for a joke; I did it for fun. I also uploaded and changed North Korean propaganda posters on Twitter - I replaced a smiling North Korean soldier’s face with a downcast version of my own face and the soldier’s weapon with a bottle of whisky.”
The article also said that, "despite the end of military rule in South Korea, authorities have increasingly used the [law] to harass critics of the government’s North Korea policies since 2008".
The New York Times reported that 151 people were interrogated on suspicion of violating the security law in 2010, up from 39 in 2007.
Msnbc.com's Alastair Jamieson contributed to this article.