South Korea is widely considered a consolidated democracy, but there is growing evidence that freedom of expression in South Korea has lagged behind that of comparable Asian countries and that it has deteriorated since 2008. Freedom House downgraded South Korea's "freedom of the press" status from "free" to "partly free" in 2010 and other international reports also raised concerns on the status of freedom of expression in the country. We identify five problems that have contributed to the deterioration in South Korea's rankings with respect to civil liberties: abuse of criminal defamation, the rules governing election campaigns, national security limitations on free speech, restrictions related to the internet and partisan use of state power to control the media. We close by considering possible explanations of the phenomenon, ranging from more distant cultural factors and the influence of the Japanese legal systems through the enduring impact of the Cold War. However, the main problems appear political. Governments on both the political right and left have placed limits on freedom of expression in order to contain political opposition, and constitutional, legal and political checks have proven insufficient to stop them.