Korean Law Demystified!

The ‘Publication’ Requirement for Criminal Insult (in Korea)


Publicly insulting another person (w/o justification) is a crime in South Korea. But what does “publicly” mean? To any 3rd party??

Here in Korea, the Uijeongbu District Court recently affirmed a lower court decision which had acquitted a person of “Insult” (모욕). The person was indicted for this crime after calling another person “a lunatic who belongs in a psychiatric hospital” in front of police officers. (The two were being questioned by the police for another incident/case.)

The main reasoning for the acquittal was that the “publication” requirement had not been met. The court reasoned that police officers generally have a duty of confidentiality, so it’s unlikely that such a remark would be disseminated (to an unspecified multitude of people).

The photo at the top is from a book titled, Thinking of Answers: Questions in the Philosophy of Everyday Life written by A.C. Grayling. In the book, Grayling goes on to make the point that insulting another person for things he/she has no control over (e.g., race, sex, sexuality, age, disability) is unacceptable. But otherwise, it’s fair game. He says, “So the rule is this: never asperse people for what they physically cannot help being. By all means attack what they choose to think or be; but even here it is better to attack ideas rather than individuals. Best of all, don’t attack anyone for anything until you have given them a proper hearing…”

I think this rule is a sound one, and I do think the crime of “Insult” will one day be found unconstitutional here in Korea. (I would say, even before criminal defamation.) Yet, at the same time, I know I’m only one person and that I can only speak for myself. The strongest counterargument, I feel, to “There’s essentially no free speech in South Korea!” type of arguments is: “Well, why aren’t more Koreans up in arms about it then?” Indeed, I often get the feeling many people here are not only “okay” with criminal insult/defamation but actually want/need it.

To learn more about criminal insult in South Korea, click here.

Thanks for reading!

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