Seoul Targets 'Radical Left' Amid Reforms

October 18, 1987|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — President Chun Doo Hwan is stepping up a campaign against "radical leftists" that is tightening the screws on freedom of speech and thought even as censorship of the press, movies, books and songs is being eased.

Despite a July 1 promise to release all political prisoners, the jails are filling up again. As many as 1,000 people are being held for what human rights advocates say are political reasons.

"Four or five people are being arrested every day," said the Rev. Kim Dong Won, the chairman of the human rights commission of the Korea National Council of Churches.

Since Chun's government stunned the nation by promising to end authoritarian rule and transform South Korea into a democracy, press controls have been loosened, censorship of movies has ended, a ban has been removed from 186 of the 325 songs that were outlawed and more than 1,000 forbidden books have been cleared for publication.

But, at the same time, Koreans have been arrested for reading or studying books and other materials the government considers leftist. Others have been jailed for urging voters to boycott a scheduled Oct. 27 referendum on a revised constitution.

8,000 Under Surveillance

Neither Chun nor any other official has attempted to define the magnitude of the threat they profess to see from the left. Police officials said last month that they had placed about 8,000 "leftist radicals" under surveillance. Some experts estimate that, in all, no more than 10,000 people are involved.

But almost every day Chun, his designated successor, Roh Tae Woo, and others speak out in urgent tones about what they insist is a growing threat to democracy.

The campaign is beginning to shape up as a disguised attack on Kim Dae Jung, a leading opposition aspirant for the presidency.

Because the radicals' ideas, including anti-Americanism, have spread far beyond their limited ranks to broader segments of the populace, the middle class has become concerned. Even critics of the government acknowledge this. As a result, scholars say, the anti-left campaign may influence middle-class voters in the presidential election, which is scheduled to take place by Dec. 20.

Prime Minister Kim Chung Yul announced the crackdown on the left on Aug. 27, warning that "the voice of seditious, subversive forces is growing, while that of sound conservative groups is diminishing."

Justice Minister Chung Hae Chang warned at the time that the radicals would undertake a campaign of violence in late September. The violence did not materialize, but the anti-leftist campaign continues.

Pro-Communist Brand

In a speech on Oct. 1--South Korea's Armed Forces Day--President Chun denounced "prominent citizens" who "take sides with clearly recognizable pro-Communist groups out of political expediency."

Government officials have repeatedly branded as pro-Communist many of the civic groups that support opposition leader Kim Dae Jung. Roh, in campaign speeches, has echoed the charge.

Politicians who exercised power under the late President Park Chung Hee, along with retired military officers, have joined in.

A Park-era official, Chung Il Kwon--in announcing that he and about 3,000 others will join in an Alliance to Protect Freedom and Save the Nation--said the other day: "Riding the wave of democratization, leftist thought is growing in society. Some persons are even siding with North Korean propaganda lies. We should eradicate any leftist movement infiltrating this democratization trend."

Chung and many of his supporters fled North Korea after it went communist when Korea was partitioned after World War II. Their hatred of communism is based on an experience that the great majority of South Koreans never had, for about 70% of the population was born long afterward, following the Korean War of 1950-53.

The Korea Times has raised questions about Chung's group, citing "misgivings about its leadership," which is dominated by former generals, and "the timing of its formation" as the December election approaches.

Even members of President Chun's Democratic Justice Party have criticized the anti-left campaign. Last Tuesday, Chung Soon Dok, a ruling party member in the National Assembly, warned that any crackdown failing to offer "a clear distinction under law as to who falls into the category of 'leftist' . . . will cause social chaos and harm national reconciliation."

The next day another party member, Rep. Pong Du Wan, was even more critical.

"For some time," Pong said on the Assembly floor, "the government has been blowing up the slightest anti-government slogan into leftism, thereby creating a sense of distrust among the people toward government announcements."

Pong cited the case of Woo Sang Ho, president of the student body at Yonsei University, who was arrested because of remarks he made in an interview with the New York Times. Woo, he said, "had a reputation of being fairly moderate, but the government accused him of being a leftist."

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