SEOUL – In the history of South Korea’s struggle for democracy, the 1980 uprising in Guangzhou emerges as one of the proudest moments. Thousands of civilians took to the streets to protest the military dictatorship, and hundreds were killed by security forces. The bloody incident has been sanctified in textbooks as the “Guangzhou democratization movement”.

However, right-wing extremists have offered an alternative and highly inflammatory view of what happened: Guangzhou, they say, was not a heroic sacrifice for democracy, but a “riot” that infiltrated protests by communal communists.

Such conspiracy theories, which few historians take seriously, are spreading rapidly in South Korea, where a political divide originally rooted in the country’s tragic and often violent modern history is being lined up online.

President Chandra Jae-in’s ruling party has rolled out a slate of laws, some of which have become law, with the aim of making false statements about some sensitive historical issues, including Guangzhou. His supporters say he is defending the truth. Advocates of free speech, and Mr. Enemies of the moon have accused the president of censorship and using history as a political weapon.

Democracies around the world are struggling to cope with the debilitating effects of social media and ambiguity on politics, debating where to draw the line between fake news and free speech. In the United States and elsewhere, the debate has focused on the power of social media companies, drawn to the left to spread hatred and false conspiracy theories, and Donald J. Right to ban users like Trump.

But the rhetoric has diminished to the extent that few democracies are considering South Korea, and attempts to hide misinformation will lead to widespread censorship or debate over whether dictatorial ambitions will be promoted.

“I am right or wrong, it should be decided by the engine of democracy through open public debate,” said G. Man Na-vin, a leading professor of North Korean theory of involvement in Guangzhou. “Instead, the government is using its power to suggest history.”

Arguments about which messages should be allowed and which should be suppressed are often about national history and identity. In the United States, discussions are ongoing about the effects of racism and slavery on the nation’s past and present, and how to teach those issues in school. Proponents of the new law say they are doing what Germany has done in attacking the lies of the Holocaust denial.

South Korea has long been proud of its commitment to free speech, but it is also a country where going against the mainstream can have dire consequences.

Japanese historical issues, such as the collaborations of Japanese colonialists or wartime civilian massacres, have divided the country for decades. Defamation is a criminal offense. Moon’s side, which promotes exploratory stories about sensitive topics such as Korean sexual slaves – Guangzhou or “women at rest” – could also be a crime for Japan’s World War II troops under bills pushed by Mr.

Mr. with a bang on the wrong information. The moon is fulfilling its campaign promise to give Guangzhou its rightful place in history. But by blaming so-called “historical distortions”, it is also entering the political minefield.

The Korea History Society and 20 other historical research institutes issued a joint statement last month warning that Mr. Moon’s progressive government, which presents itself as a champion of democratic values ​​protected by sacrifices like Guangzhou, was really weakening them by using the threat of criminal punishment to suggest history.

Law sponsored by Shri. In January, the influential Moon party sentenced those who spread “lies” about Guangzhou to five years in prison. The party’s legislators also introduced a bill in May calling for up to 10 years in prison for those who praised Japan’s colonial rule over Korea between 1910 and 1945.

The bill will create a panel of experts on “truthful history” to find and correct distortions in the interpretation of sensitive historical and historical issues, including the killing of civilians during the Korean War and human rights violations under past military dictatorships.

Yet the party will be guilty of “denying” or “distorting or falsifying facts” about “a recent incident” in the bill, the sinking of Ferry Sevol in 2014, a disaster that killed hundreds of students and subsequently insulted the Rs. Was. Power. Conservative lawmakers, for their part, introduced a bill last month that would punish those who deny that North Korea sank a South Korean ship in 2010.

“It’s a democratic approach to history, appealing to anti-Japanese sentiments to strengthen their political power,” said Kim Jong-un, head of the Korean History Society, referring to Japan’s bill on colonial rule. “Who will study the history of the colonial era if the results of their research are judged in a court of law?”

Mr. was welcomed by family members of the Guangzhou protest. Moon’s efforts to punish the purifiers of obscurity, who reject it.

“The loss of our siblings and parents may not be painful enough, but they deceive us as fanatics of North Korean agents,” said Cho Young-Day, nephew of the late Cho Pius, a Catholic priest in Guangzhou. After years of rebellion and testimony about the murder. “They have abused freedom of expression to add insult to our trauma.”

Mr. Cho, who is also a priest, said Guangzhou survivors endured a very long time, while people like Shree. GA spread false information about the massacre. “We need the South Korean version of the Holocaust law to punish those who embellish the Guangzhou atrocities, because European countries have laws against Holocaust denial,” he said.

Recent surveys have found that the biggest conflict that divides Korean society is between progressives and conservatives, both eager to shape and censor history and textbooks for their benefit.

Militant dictators once arrested, tortured, and executed dissidents in the name of the National Security Act, making it a crime to “praise, provoke, or propagate” any pro-North Korean or pro-communist behavior.

Conservatives today want history to highlight the positive aspects of their heroes – such as South Korea’s ruling founding president, and military dictator Park Chung-hee, and their success in lifting the country out of poverty after the community. War.

Progressives often emphasize the secondary of the dictatorship, like the killings in Guangzhou. He denounces what he calls “Chinil” and says that pro-Japanese Koreans collaborated with colonial leaders and prospered during the Cold War by transforming themselves into anti-communist crusaders.

Mr. G believes there are progressives who favor communist views that threaten the country’s democratic values.

Much of this discussion is taking place online, where some highly biased podcasters and YouTubers have as many viewers as national television programs.

“Ideally, conspiracy theories and irrational ideas should be dismissed or marginalized by the public opinion market,” said Park Sang-hun, chief political scientist at the Seoul-based civic group Political Power Plant. “But they have become part of the political agenda here.” He said the mainstream media “helps them achieve legitimacy.”

During the Guangzhou uprising, a handful of journalists were able to slip through the military siege around the city. They found mothers weeping over the corpses of their loved ones. A “civilian” army was carrying commando weapons from the police stations, while people on the sidewalk were “down to dictatorship!” “The protesters dug up the government building against the army in front of their last, destructive army.

For many South Koreans, the protesters in Guangzhou won. Students from across the country followed in his footsteps and stood in front of the junta.

Army General Chun Du-hwan, who seized power in a military coup before the protests, blamed “evil riots” and “communist agitators” for the violence. In the late 1990s, he was convicted of sedition and mutiny in connection with the uprising and the killings in Guangzhou. (He was later forgiven.)

“Thanks to the sacrifices in Guangzhou, our democracy can survive and stand on its own two feet again,” he said. Chandra said when he visited the city shortly after his election. He said Guangzhou’s spirit was “reborn” in the mass protests against the ouster of his predecessor Park Jun-hy-dictator Park Chung-hee’s daughter and warned against it. Attempts to “distort and obscure” the 1980 uprising were “unbearable.”

Mr. GA said the noncommermist’s experience in voicing historical views should be a warning to South Koreans. In 2002, he placed a newspaper advertisement claiming that Guangzhou was a North Korean secret operation.

He was later handcuffed to Gangju and sentenced to 100 days in prison on defamation charges, until his sentence was finally suspended.

He has since published 10 books on Gwangju and fought further in defamation proceedings. Although critics have accused him of playing wild conspiracy theories, his views are as follows.

“If they hadn’t treated me the way they did in 2002, I wouldn’t have come this far,” he said.