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Banning Opinion

At a time when lies and conspiracy theories run rampant across the internet, it is not surprising that many would look to governments and private companies to censor irrational and harmful beliefs. But even if this could be done effectively, that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.

NEW YORK – In May 1980, students in the South Korean city of Gwangju rebelled against the unpopular military regime. Many hundreds were brutally murdered by paratroopers sent in to quell the uprising. General Chun Doo-hwan, the leader of the military government, claimed that the students were North Korean revolutionary stooges.

Over the following two decades, South Korea became a democracy, and Chun was put in prison. While Korean liberals still mourn the students of Gwangju as martyrs to democracy, some conservatives believe that Chun was right to see the uprising as a North Korean plot. Now, South Korea’s current liberal president, Moon Jae-in, is pushing for laws to ban such views as “historical distortions.” Denying that the Gwangju uprising was anything but a quest for freedom can now land a person in jail for five years. Praising aspects of Japanese colonial rule in Korea can lead to an even longer prison sentence.

Proponents of such legislation in South Korea point to laws in several European countries that prohibit denial of the Jewish Holocaust. Opponents, meanwhile, regard such laws as an attack on free speech, arguing that governments should not be allowed to decide what is right or wrong in historical debates.

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