SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – A Korean-American woman accused of praising rival North Korea in a recent lecture said she is being deported Saturday from South Korea, in the latest in a series of cases that critics say infringe on the country’s freedom of speech.
The Korea Immigration Service decided to deport Shin Eun-mi, a California resident, after prosecutors determined that her comments violated South Korea’s National Security Law, agency official Kim Du-yeol said.
Shin said she will be taking a flight out of South Korea on Saturday evening, but hopes to be able to return to both Koreas.
The Korean Peninsula remains technically in a state of war, split along the world’s most heavily fortified border, because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. In South Korea, praising North Korea can be punished by up to seven years in prison under the National Security Law.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Shin had been barred from exiting South Korea for three weeks, and the US has seen reports indicating the prosecution has asked for her to be deported and banned from the country for five years.
In a rare note of criticism of a key ally, Psaki said that despite South Korea’s generally strong record on human rights, the security law limits freedom of expression and restricts access to the Internet.
Supporters argue that the law is needed because of continuing threats from North Korea. But critics want it scrapped. Past authoritarian leaders in South Korea frequently used the law to suppress political rivals.
Shin posted stories about her trips to North Korea on OhmyNews, a popular South Korean online news site.
Her book on her trips was included in a government-designated reading list in 2013, but the Culture Ministry removed it this week.