FOR several months a blogger going by the name of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, has proved a severe irritant to South Korea’s government. He made several correct financial predictions, such as the Korean won’s sharp decline against the American dollar, and heaped scorn on President Lee Myung-bak and his finance minister, Kang Man-soo, for their handling of the economic crisis. This made him both a household name and a target for official persecution.
Indeed, since January 10th Minerva, who has been revealed to be an unemployed man, Park Dae-sung, has been in detention. Riot police raided his flat, finding the 31-year-old at his screen, surrounded by financial primers. He is under arrest on charges related to a posting on December 29th, asserting that in order to support the won the finance ministry had ordered financial institutions to stop buying American dollars. The ministry denies this, and prosecutors argue that the post contravened so-called “cyber-slander” legislation, and caused so much currency turmoil that the government had to spend the equivalent of $2 billion to support the won. Civic groups and opposition parties, infuriated by this apparent attack on free speech, have vowed to support him.
It is possible that Mr Park is just one of several Minervas. He denies writing a newspaper article published under his pseudonym. Others question whether a man with no formal economic training can grasp financial arcana (though many journalists claim to manage). But, however many Minervas there are, the government’s sledgehammer to the blogger’s nut does nothing to improve Mr Lee’s perceived lack of a common touch.
Mr Park seems to have fallen foul of both the two main causes of official paranoia: the internet and the financial crisis. It has been alarmed about online activism ever since this helped opposition forces organise protests that brought central Seoul to a halt last year. Over the financial crisis, the finance ministry has urged foreign journalists to “care about the Korean people’s psychology” and not use adjectives like “failing”, “desperate” or “jittery” to describe markets. After all, say officials, press and people must stand together “to tackle this giant monster”. As for the ministry’s denial, traders agree that it did not put out an emergency order, as Minerva claimed. But all of the big banks in the foreign-exchange market, they say, were called and urged to curb their dollar purchases.