Koreas-human rights

SEOUL, May 23 (Yonhap) -- Amnesty International criticized South Korea's draconian security law Thursday for restricting freedom of expression and association in the country due to the increased application of the law.

In its annual report on the state of the world's human rights involving 101 countries, the non-governmental global rights watchdog also said human rights violations persist in North Korea's horrendous concentration camps.

Expressing concern about South Korea's National Security Law (NSL), Amnesty International said it is being "increasingly and arbitrarily used to curtail freedoms of association and expression."

The NSL, which defines North Korea as an "anti-state entity," strictly bans its people from contacting North Korean agents and from organizing or engaging in pro-Pyongyang activities that attempt to spread or promote the communist country's political ideas.

"Law enforcement authorities used vaguely worded clauses of the NSL to detain for questioning and/or charge 41 people. NSL provisions continued to be used to control online debate on North Korea," the report said.

As tell-tale examples of violating the freedom of expression, Amnesty cited a series of workouts last year by journalists and media workers here, and the Greenpeace case where its six staff members were denied entry into Incheon International Airport in what they called the Seoul government's attempt to prevent anti-nuclear criticism.

Amnesty also pointed out that workers' rights remained under threat as long-term labor disputes went unresolved.

As a case in point, it mentioned the long-running labor troubles of Ssangyong Motor Co., South Korea's smallest automaker, which stemmed from bankruptcy protection and a subsequent strike against mass layoffs in 2009. At that time, some 1,900 Ssangyong employees chose to retire, 159 were dismissed and 454 took unpaid leave.

In regards to North Korea, Amnesty pointed to its "widespread systematic human rights violations," caused by persistent food crisis and prison camps where "extrajudicial executions, forced labor and torture and other ill-treatment" take place.

"Hundreds of thousands remained arbitrarily detained, or held for indeterminate periods without charge or trial in political prison camps and other detention facilities," it said in its annual report.

"Detainees faced systematic and sustained violations of their human rights ... There were reports of executions, including of those purged in the leadership transition," it said.

As an example, Amnesty mentioned the case of Kenneth Bae, the 44-year-old U.S. national of Korean origin, who has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for an unspecified crime. North Korea has accused him of attempting to overthrow the North Korean regime.

Severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, opinion and assembly persist, with the media remaining under strict control, Amnesty pointed out.

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