|Empty frames are seen after the removal of the portraits of late North Korean leaders and the image of a North Korean flag from the exterior of the North Korea-themed pub under construction in Seoul's Hongdae area, Sept. 16. Yonhap|
|A woman takes a photo of the signs that satirize North Korean-style slogans near the North Korea-themed pub under construction in Seoul's Hongdae area, Sept. 16. Yonhap|
Owner removes images of late North Korean leaders over fears of national security law
By Jung Min-ho
You may have thought that a North Korea-themed cafe or restaurant would be a hit in South Korea. But putting that business idea into action may get you into serious trouble.
Earlier this week, the owner of a North Korea-themed pub in Seoul's Hongdae area removed a North Korean flag and portraits of the country's late leaders ― Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il ― from the building's exterior after police warned him.
The owner of the Pyongyang Pub, which is still under construction, said he came up with the idea to promote his business, not the regime. The place also was decorated with parodies of North Korean-style slogans such as "More booze to the people" and "Let's revolutionize the development of side dishes."
It is unclear whether the owner will ditch the plan or just tone it down. However, if he wants to stick with it, he will walk a thin line between being witty and violating the national security law ― and risking a prison sentence.
Article 7 of the National Security Act bans "praising, inciting or promoting the activities" of enemies and their followers. Violators could face up to seven years in prison.
The two Koreas remain technically at war after the Korean War (1950-53) ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
|T-shirts with the North Korean flag are displayed at a shop in Pyongyang, North Korea, November 2018. Anyone who wears such T-shirts in South Korea could be prosecuted for violating the National Security Act. Korea Times photo by Jung Min-ho|
Liberal scholars and human rights organizations have criticized the law, saying that politicians, especially hardline right-wingers, far too often use it as a tool to galvanize their support base and to justify violations of human rights under the name of "national security."
Enforcement of the law has been rare in recent years, especially since President Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party of Korea came to power in 2017. But prosecutors apply that law flexibly and sometimes press charges against those who "blatantly" glorify North Korean leaders and their ideologies.
After the issue came to the fore, some lawyers said the owner's "marketing strategy" should not be prosecuted as it appears that he did not intend to jeopardize national security with it. But in the end, it is the prosecution's decision whether to indict him.
In 2018, 20 people were indicted for breaking the law, a significant drop from 129 in 2013 when Park Geun-hye of the conservative Saenuri Party (predecessor of Liberty Korea Party) was in office.