On stalking, following, and this man


Source: L.A. Times

Source: L.A. Times

The story has already been covered across the K-blogosphere (see Brian, Extra Korea, Kushibo, and Lost in Jeju for some more takes) in the past day or two. From the original story, posted by the L.A. Times:
Sometimes, in his off hours, Yie Eun-woong does a bit of investigative work.

He uses the Internet and other means to track personal data and home addresses of foreign English teachers across South Korea.

Then he follows them, often for weeks at a time, staking out their apartments, taking notes on their contacts and habits.

He wants to know whether they’re doing drugs or molesting children.

Yie, a slender 40-year-old who owns a temporary employment agency, says he is only attempting to weed out troublemakers who have no business teaching students in South Korea, or anywhere else.

The volunteer manager of a controversial group known as the Anti-English Spectrum, Yie investigates complaints by South Korean parents, often teaming up with authorities, and turns over information from his efforts for possible prosecution.

Outraged teachers groups call Yie an instigator and a stalker.

Yie waves off the criticism. “It’s not stalking, it’s following,” he said. “There’s no law against that.”

While Yie Eun-Woong may be the current whipping boy who unwillingly posed for a photo, the question of what we do remains:
  • Do we find / follow / stalk this guy ourselves?
  • Do we call the cops if we see him peering into our trash or window?
  • Do we see his face on the streets and jump him at the first chance?
  • Do we ignore him as we would any other person on the streets?
  • Do we photograph / videotape / document his efforts?
  • Do we assist his efforts in rooting out the problem teachers?
You know, I’m torn. If one was being stalked / followed / harassed in ones home country, calling the cops and explaining your situation might be a logical thing – especially if you felt you were in some physical danger. Between the language barrier and getting cops to listen to your side of the story, however, that safety doesn’t necessarily exist here. Even if you catch the guy red-handed – stalking you or following you, for example – he’s not necessarily breaking the law. If you try to restrain him or prevent him after you see him do something wrong, it’s you who can be charged for assault (especially if the cop responding tends to be more sympathetic to the local) I’m not sure what the precise legal definition of stalking or harassment is here; even it were technically stalking, the odds of getting an arrest are about as high as seeing a bootleg DVD seller go out of business.

So what to do? This old post from a Korea Law Blog isn’t exactly helpful:

From a perspective of Korean Criminal law, currently there is no general law on harassment or stalking thing. The respective laws have its own regulations on which behavior constitutes a certain crime is not.

So, in a legal standpoint, she may warn him to stop doing that kind of act or he’ll be in a danger of being charged in Korea. In this case send the warning letter in the name of Korean lawyer is strongly recommended. It is not hard to see, in Korea, people stop violating one’s legal right after receiving a lawyer’s warning letter and recognizing illegality of his or her behavior.

The distinguishing factor between simply following someone and stalking someone, according to most definitions of stalking, is perceived or actual fear for one’s safety; threats (whether real or perceived) or unwanted contact. In short, the reason no one can give an answer is that there isn’t one – at least an official one (if someone can show a link or source to the contrary, please comment!).

So what to do? The Ministry of Justice’s website doesn’t have any clear answers; neither does the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission’s website. After some digging through the Criminal Law (at least the English-language version), the best thing I found was this:
Chapter XXX – Crimes of Intimidation
Article 283 (Intimidation, Intimidation on Lineal Ascendant)
(1) A person who intimidated another shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than three years, a fine of not more than five million won, detention or a minor fine Amended by Act No. 5057, Dec 29, 1995
It’s not ‘stalking’ per se, and I’m not an attorney – but it might still stick.

So now we resort to the unofficial solutions, beyond the law. There is a Korean proverb in my trusty Lonely Planet – the English translation is “The law is far but the fist is near”. In other words, take matters into your own hands instead of trusting the government to fix the problem or make one right. Although the Korean government is too busy with its own problems, I’m torn there too – at what point does vigilantism fighting vigilantism resort to anarchy?

The worst part is that there really isn’t a “peaceful” solution – either this guy and organization is held accountable for their quasi-police actions, or foreigners in Korea face an group of locals able to influence police and government, intent on catching you doing something – anything – illegal by whatever means necessary. If that’s not a witch hunt, I don’t know what is.

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