Korean Law Demystified!

Recent Defamation Cases 3


Recently here in South Korea, a professional baseball player and his former girlfriend were both found guilty of defamation by the Suwon District Court. (Defamation is a crime here.) They are on trial for defaming a well-known professional cheerleader. In October 2015, the baseball player’s former girlfriend made public (via her Instagram) several online messages she had received (some time ago) from the baseball player while the two were still dating. Well, one of the messages hinted that fellow baseball players had slept with the cheerleader. This was not true, and the cheerleader promptly filed a criminal complaint. On February 24, 2016, the Suwon District Court fined the baseball player 7 mil won, while sentencing the former girlfriend to 4 months in prison (1 year probation, meaning no actual jail time) + ordering 160 hours of community service. Reports say the prosecution has appealed this decision because the punishment fell way short of what they’d asked for.

Guru Note 1: In Korea, when defamation is perpetrated online, a special law called the ACT ON PROMOTION OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK UTILIZATION AND INFORMATION PROTECTION, ETC. (정보통신망이용촉진및정보보호등에관한법률) applies.

Guru Note 2: Even when allegations are made privately (to one person), it could still constitute defamation if it was reasonably foreseeable (to the alleger) that the (sole) listener/reader could possibly (later) divulge it.

The above case was regarding defamation via a false statement. But in Korea, defamation via a true statement is also a crime. On February 25, 2016, the Constitutional Court of Korea reviewed whether the Article relating to defamation via a true statement (under the ACT ON PROMOTION OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK UTILIZATION AND INFORMATION PROTECTION, ETC.) was indeed constitutional. In a 7:2 vote, the Court found it constitutional. The majority reasoned that in our society with people who still place a lot of value on how one is viewed/perceived by others – some going as far as to take extreme measures when his/her reputation is tarnished – there is a greater need to protect personal rights. The two dissenting Justices, on the other hand, cited the dangers of self-censorship and the “chilling effect.” (These two Justices had also, in vain, voted for the crime of “Insult” as unconstitutional back in 2013. In Korea, publicly insulting another person w/o justification is a crime. Like online name-calling.)

Pot, Abortion, Defamation, Insult, Prostitution, Conscientious Objection

Out of the above crimes, I sometimes wonder in what order they will be decriminalized (if at all) here in Korea. In Korea, decriminalization usually occurs when the Constitutional Court finds a certain piece of criminal law as unconstitutional. Like how adultery was decriminalized.

Thanks for reading!

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