President Moon, Mr. Lee’s boss, took power last year after Park Geun-hye was impeached as president and ousted on corruption and other criminal charges. While in office, Ms. Park was also widely accused of plotting to silence her critics.
Now, Mr. Moon faces the same accusations.
After he took power, defectors from North Korea asserted that TV and cable channels feared hiring them as commentators because they tended to accuse Mr. Moon of ignoring human rights abuses in North Korea while eagerly negotiating with it. Lawmakers in his party have introduced a bill that would ban defectors and other anti-North Korean activists from sending negative leaflets via balloon into the North without government permission.
These balloons carry leaflets that contain Christian messages and bitter criticism of the North’s leader, Mr. Kim, often calling him a “bloody pig.” North Korea has lashed out, calling the sending of such fliers an act of hostility. When Mr. Moon met Mr. Kim in Pyongyang last month, they agreed to cease all hostilities along the border.
In an interview with Fox News last week, Mr. Moon vehemently denied that his government was muzzling North Korean defectors or undermining free speech.
“Probably South Koreans have never enjoyed the freedom of speech as much as they do now,” said Mr. Moon, who argued that even “fake news” was overflowing “without restraint” in news and social media.
In the World Press Freedom Index compiled by the human rights group Reporters Without Borders, South Korea was ranked 43rd of 180 countries this year, rising 20 notches from last year.
“The election of Moon Jae-in, a human rights activist and former political prisoner, as president has been a breath of fresh air after a bad decade in which South Korea fell more than 30 places in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index,” the group said. “Nonetheless, structural problems remain. The system of appointing managers at the public broadcasters needs to be revised in order to guarantee their independence.”
It also criticized the country’s anti-defamation laws, under which statements deemed not in the public interest can result in imprisonment: up to three years for statements that are true and up to seven for those considered false.