Korean Law Demystified!

Recent Defamation Acquittals (in South Korea)

Below are recent defamation cases reported here in South Korea.

In Korea, defamation is a crime, and truth alone is not a defense.

I. Professor Park Yu-ha Acquitted of Criminal Defamation!

The Seoul Eastern District Court acquitted Professor Park Yu-ha of defamation with regard to her controversial book, Comfort Women of the Empire. (In her book, the professor claimed, among other things, that some comfort women had actually volunteered, etc.) The court’s reasoning seems to be that many of the professor’s claims are actually opinion (as opposed to statements of fact) + even the parts that do constitute statements of fact do not go so far as to specifically/individually defame comfort women + a higher degree of freedom of expression should be accorded with regard to academic/historical matters. (FYI: About a year ago, the professor lost a civil case and was ordered to pay about 90 mil won to several comfort women victims. In the case, the court saw most of the professor’s claims as statements of fact.) The prosecution will probably appeal the acquittal (which is possible in Korea), so the professor is by no means out of the woods.

II. Local Government Entities Incapable of Being Defamed!

The Supreme Court of Korea reversed and remanded an appellate court case which had found a man guilty of defaming a local government entity. The appellate court had found him guilty and imposed a criminal fine of 2.5 mil won. (Back in 2010, the man made false accusations against Goheung County via their website bulletin board.) The Supreme Court basically reasoned that government entities are incapable of being criminally defamed or insulted. In the Court’s view, criminal defamation/insult is not intended to protect (even) government entities/authorities whose purpose is merely to serve/protect us. FYI: Private entities/organizations are capable of being defamed.

III. What Constitutes Defamation via a False Statement?

The Seoul Eastern District Court acquitted a woman of defamation after she mistakenly accused another person of secretly recording a live musical. While enjoying a musical, the woman noticed a person nearby wear + constantly fiddle with a Google Glass-like type of device. She then publicly accused that person during intermission. Well, it turned out that the person was merely using the device (to zoom in and get a better view). In Korea, defamation can be perpetrated either via a true or false statement. In order to commit defamation via a false statement, the perpetrator must be aware of his/her claim’s falsity. (e.g., “I know it’s false or it’s prolly false, but I’m gonna say it anyway!”) If the prosecution appeals, she is not out of the woods yet.

Thanks for reading!

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