CPJ Protests Ongoing Imprisonment of South Korean
Journalists on Charges of Criminal Defamation

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President Kim Dae Jung
The Blue House
#1 Sejong-no, Chongno-gu
Seoul
Republic of Korea

 

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17 July 1998

 

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned over the continued imprisonment of two Korean journalists for criminal defamation stemming from last year's presidential campaign.

On July 2, a Seoul court sentenced Ham Yun Shik, the publisher of One Way magazine, to one year in prison on charges brought by the National Congress for New Politics (NCNP), your political party, as a result of highly critical articles regarding your background and political ideology published in the magazine in 1997. Ham was initially arrested and charged on February 28.

Son Chung Mu, the publisher of Inside the World magazine, remains in jail on charges of criminal defamation also growing out of his magazine's coverage of last year's presidential campaign. Son was arrested on June 1 and his case is still pending. He is scheduled to go to court on July 20.

Similar charges have also been brought against Chon Bong Jae, publisher of World Korea magazine. He has gone into hiding to avoid arrest, according to our sources.

CPJ first brought our concerns over these cases to your attention in a letter dated June 1, but we did not receive a response.

We are alarmed by the vigorous prosecution of these cases, particularly since they coincide with your government's July 1 announcement that a large number of the 500 political prisoners in South Korea will be released on August 15, the 50th anniversary of the end of the Japanese occupation and of the founding of the South Korean government.

As a nonpartisan organization that defends press freedom around the world, CPJ believes strongly that no journalist should be jailed as a result of what he or she writes. We believe that sufficient remedies exist in civil law to redress legitimate claims of defamation. Defamation is not considered a criminal offense in most democratic countries and the use of criminal defamation statutes has a chilling effect on press freedom.

Therefore, we strongly urge you to examine closely the matter of Son Chung Mu and Ham Yun Shik and to consider releasing them at the earliest possible time. Please also consider dropping criminal charges against Chong Bong Jae. Given the promised release of political prisoners, a gesture of leniency now in these cases would seem particularly appropriate.

We further urge you to set in motion the abrogation of South Korea's harsh criminal defamation laws to ensure that journalists are protected from imprisonment in the future and that such statutes do not stand in the way of South Korea's admirable strides over the last decade toward becoming a vibrant democracy.

We appreciate your attention and await your response.

 

Yours sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper

Executive Director