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A 21-year-old South Korean student has been arrested and charged with disseminating false information after he posted pictures on the Internet, poking fun at politicians.

The authorities say the postings were contrary to their electoral law, which was recently amended to ban distribution of messages offensive to politicians during an election campaign.

The student, known by his online pseudonym "Kwon", posted files that included a cartoon strip showing one party leader as homeless after losing the elections and a parody of a video game in which the losing team was replaced by members of the main opposition party. Kwon is accused of posting 70 similar images on 15 sites.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) said it would close down websites displaying such content, and go after any Net users who display it on their sites. The law, amended on 12 March, now demands that ISPs hand over names and addresses of those suspected of posting material deemed offensive.

Reporters without Borders (RSF), an organisation that campaigns for global freedom of the press, condemed the arrest saying that this law should not be applied to Net users posting such information on personal websites. In a statement issued late last week, RSF said that the prosecution of the student "clearly constitutes a violation of free expression on the Internet, especially as the law says the election campaign does not start until two weeks before the elections, namely, on 1 April".

Although Kwon has since been released, many South Koreans are unimpressed with this heavy-handed approach. In the wake of president Roh Moo-hyun's removal, there has been a vast increase in political debate online. Choi Nae-hyun of website Mediamob said that charging Internet users "is nothing less then an attack on the people's right to participate freely in politics".

The most recent RSF data on South Korea can be found here. ®

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