Korean Law Demystified!

Recent Defamation Cases 2

[Example Situation]


Samuel and Sally have been dating for some time (here in Korea). But right now, Samuel wants to break up with Sally because he now feels she is too erratic and high maintenance. Before Samuel can do that, Sally becomes pregnant with his child. Still, Samuel breaks up with Sally. He tells her he is (still) willing to take full responsibility for the child. But Sally is desperate to get back with Samuel. So one day, Sally suddenly shows up at Samuel’s workplace and reveals to his coworkers that she is pregnant with his child. (She even shows them her ultrasound images.) Samuel is now extremely angry because he really wanted to keep everything on the DL. He fears that his superiors will start to view him unfavorably. Samuel decides to file a criminal complaint against Sally for defamation. Sally is indicted. How is a Korean court likely to decide? Note: Defamation is a crime in Korea, and truth (alone) is not a defense.

I. The Ruling

In a similar case, the Seoul Central District Court ruled that Sally’s statements/actions above do not constitute defamation. This was an appellate court decision. The trial court had found her guilty.

II. Reasoning

Given the nature of the relationship, such info (in itself) is incapable of tarnishing Samuel’s social reputation. The two were unmarried individuals who were boyfriend and girlfriend at the time.

III. My Take

I’m torn really because I do feel Sally’s statements/actions were ones potentially capable of tarnishing Samuel’s social reputation (at least here in Korea). As the law stands now, I do. It’s not hard for me to picture some of his coworkers judging him. But if I’m wrong, when exactly is social reputation deemed tarnished? Where do we draw the line?

DID YOU KNOW? In Korea, a court recently found a woman guilty of defamation after she posted on her KakaoTalk profile (and messaged many people) that her violent husband had cheated on her. Her allegations were true. She was fined 2 mil won. YTN news report below.

In Korea, if you are found guilty of defamation (via a true statement), you will most likely face a criminal fine. Actual prison sentences are reserved for defamation based on (egregious) lies.

The defense for defamation (via a true statement) is that you did so “solely for the public interest.” Here, the manner in which you made the statement will come into play (e.g., to whom, for how long).

But what’s interesting about criminal defamation in Korea is that there’s always a clause which says: “The perpetrator cannot be prosecuted against the victim’s express wishes…” So usually, the perpetrator and the victim reach a settlement, and the case is closed. In essence, the victim is able to receive “damages” w/o the hassle of a lengthy lawsuit. Criminal copyright law functions similarly here in Korea.

DID YOU KNOW? There are two words (in the Korean language) that correspond to the English word, “truth.” They are: “진리” (眞理), and “진실” (眞實). It’s hard for me to explain the subtle difference, but I would say: “진리” is “truth” as in “The earth is round,” while “진실” refers to “truth” as in “I was really there!” FYI, “사실” (事實) is closer to “fact.”

– “The truth shall set you free.” –> “진리가 너희를 자유케 하리라.”

Truth & Reconciliation Commission –> 진실·화해를위한과거사정리위원회

IV. Food for Thought

– Is truth infallible?

– What do you think about people who take joy in divulging private/embarrassing information about others?

– What do you think about people who intentionally sell half-truths?

– In Korea, is the problem (more) there being too much of the truth (out there) or not enough of it?

– What is the meaning of life? In a nutshell, is it to seek truth, find happiness, and show compassion to others?

If you’d like to learn some more about today’s topic, click here.

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