Publicly insulting another person without justification is a crime in South Korea. The perpetrator could face both criminal and civil liability.
I. Recent Criminal Case
The Daejeon District Court found a woman guilty of “Insult” (모욕), etc. and ordered her to pay a criminal fine of 2 mil won. While on a bus ride last year, she accosted another woman passenger and shouted at her, “You’re from Seoul, aren’t you? Well, Daejeon’s always been like this…” + cursed her out, etc. More than 10 people were on the bus at the time.
II. Recent Civil Case
The Seoul Western District Court ordered 5 online commenters to (together) pay activist/filmmaker Kang Ui-seok (or “We-suck” as he likes to go by) about 1 mil won. On Armed Forces Day (October 1st) 2013, Kang staged a flashy one-man protest in front of the Korean War Memorial. Topless, he’d painted the entire upper half of his body red, with the writing, “The military. (Do we) really need one?” on his chest and belly. (Kang was urging the government to recognize and free conscientious objectors.) Upon hearing this news, some people online cursed him out. Kang sued 5 of them, demanding damages in the amount of 21 mil won (for psychological pain and suffering). The court granted less than 1 mil.
III. Additional Comments
1. Online name-calling is now the most common form of publicly insulting another person (w/o justification). So most times, criminal insult in Korea functions (essentially) as a law against cyberbullying.
2. Korea has no comprehensive anti-discrimination law. Interestingly, the use of racial slurs (in public) can be punished under criminal insult.
Thanks for reading!