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Korean Union of Media Workers:Stop Gagging & Intimidating Korean Journalists Choo & Kim

by Korean Union Of Media Workers
The Korean Union Of Media Workers has issued a statement protesting the intimidation of journalists in South Korea by the Park government and to stop the imprisonment of investigative journalists Choo Jinwoo and Kim Oujoon
Korean Union of Media Workers Statement:Stop Gagging And Intimidating Korean Journalists-Hands off Investigative Journalists Choo Jinwoo And Kim Oujoon

A statement from the Union of Media Workers of South Korea: On The Case Of Investigative Journalists Choo Jinwoo and Kim Oujoon
Reporting on suspicions in a murder case involving the S. Korean President's close relatives is not a crime

Reporting on suspicions in a murder case involving the S. Korean President's close relatives is not a crime

On January 16, 2015 a verdict from a high court in Seoul is expected to be delivered to Choo Jinwoo, a journalist at Sisa In, and Kim Oujoon, the president of DDanzi Media Group. These men have been indicted on defamation charges against Park Jiman, the president’s own brother, after they had reported on suspicions in a murder case implicating Mr. Park’s involvement in the case.

These two journalists were sued by Park Jiman on charges of reporting Park Jiman’s possible involvement with the deaths of Park Yongsoo and Park Yongchul, Park Jiman's cousins once removed, shortly before the 18th presidential election in 2012 which Park Jiman's sister, Park Geunhye, was running in.

This murder case has so many unanswered questions and suspicions. This case originally started because of conflicts between Shin Dongwook, the husband of President Park Geunhye’s sister, and Park Jiman. While trials between these two were ongoing Park Yongchul who could have testified against Park Jiman and had been requested to appear as a witness in court by Shin’s attorney was murdered. However, the investigation was rushed to finish leaving many suspicions unresolved.

After having investigated into this case for some time Choo Jinwoo wrote an article describing circumstantial evidence that implicated Park Jiman’s involvement in the case. And Kim Oujoon interviewed Choo Jinwoo about it for his podcast “Nanun KKomsuda”.

Whenever there are suspicions or doubts it is the primary duty of a journalist to investigate and report findings in order to reveal the truth. These two journalists, who only raised questions on a case with many unresolved suspicions, were only trying to do their job as conscientious journalists.

Nevertheless, Kim Oujoon and Choo Jinwoo were sued by Park Jiman. In October of 2013 these two journalists were tried in a trial by jury which involved ordinary citizens as jurors and they were acquitted on all charges. The verdict showed that justice was rightfully served.

However, because the prosecutors were convinced that the report by these two journalists was false they appealed to a higher court and asked for three years in prison for Choo Jinwoo and two years in prison for Kim Oujoon.

One of the important functions of journalism is to check and to criticize, if necessary, people with power. It was only right for these journalists to look into a case since there were suspicions suggesting that the former president and the leading candidate for the presidential election were involved in the case. By demanding prison time for these two journalists the prosecution is only trying to gag and intimidate journalists, so that they cannot speak up against those in power.

Journalists across the world including the International Federation of Journalists are watching intently to see what the verdict will be for Choo Jinwoo and Kim Oujoon. Please remember that a judgment of conviction for them will only become a target of international derision. We urge our judiciary system to make a wise and fair judgment, without bias or interference brought on by the current administration.

2015년 1월 7일
January 7, 2015

The Union Of Media Workers of South Korea

Korean Journalists Kim Ou-joon and Choo Chin-woo acquitted in defamation suit connected to President Park's Family
Defendants accused of slandering President Park’s brother, fatherOct 25,2013
Kim Ou-joon, left, host of a podcast show “Naneun Ggomsuda” and Choo Chin-woo, a reporter for the news magazine SisaIN, come out of the Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul yesterday after being acquitted by the court. [NEWSIS]
A Seoul court yesterday acquitted a well-known journalist and the host of a liberal podcast program of several charges, which included spreading false and defamatory information about Park Ji-man, the younger brother of President Park Geun-hye, and their father, the late President Park Chung Hee.

Kim Ou-joon, host of the show “Naneun Ggomsuda,” which roughly translate to “I’m a petty-minded creep,” and Choo Chin-woo, a reporter for the news magazine SisaIN, as well as a regular guest on the show, were cleared of all charges by a citizens’ jury.

The jury trial system is used when a defendant asks to be tried by ordinary citizens. However, the jury’s decision is non-binding, and a judge still makes the final ruling. In both cases, the Seoul Central District Court judge sided with the nine-member jury’s not-guilty verdict.

The charges stemmed from a December 2012 article Choo wrote ahead of the presidential election in which he alleged that Park Ji-man was involved in the brutal murder of one of the nephews of Park Chung Hee.

Kim Ou-joon later broadcasted the report on his show, which the prosecution argued affected the presidential campaign.

In the article, Choo referenced the 2011 case in which Park Yong-cheol, the 49-year-old nephew of Park Chung Hee, was found dead on a trail near Mount Bukhan, in central Seoul. Just a few kilometers away, the body of Park Yong-su, 51, another Park nephew, was found hanging from a tree.

According to reports, Park Yong-cheol was stabbed in the face, chest and stomach with a knife. He had also been hit over the head with a blunt weapon. Police recovered a knife and a hammer from the scene. Police also found a note and a car key in Park Yong-su’s pants pocket, and his death was ruled a suicide.

Investigators concluded that, based on the evidence, Park Yong-su had killed Yong-cheol, and then committed suicide. The case was closed in October 2011.

However, in his article, Choo claimed that Park Yong-su had not committed suicide. He argued that Park Ji-man had financial disputes with his family members over the , a charity started by Park Ji-man’s mother, which linked him to the case.

The prosecution also alleged that Choo had posthumously defamed the late President Park, citing a 2011 publishing party for his book, at which Choo said that Park Chung Hee had left assets for his family now worth more than 10 trillion won ($9 billion).

They also accused both defendants of regularly making defamatory comments about Park Chung Hee on Naneun Ggomsuda.

Choo and Kim were ultimately cleared of all charges.

The prosecution had called for a three-year jail term for Choo and a two-year jail term for Kim. They said they planned to file an appeal.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin [at]]

Conservative Abe’s secrecy law doesn’t hold a candle to Seoul’s press suppression


• DEC 22, 2014

For people concerned with the weakening of press freedoms under the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, its criticism of the liberal Asahi Shimbun and the new state secrets law, there should still be a sense of relief that media suppression in Japan has not quite reached the levels now being seen in South Korea.

Like Japan, South Korea is currently governed by a decidedly conservative regime — that of President Park Geun-hye and her Saenuri Party, known until early 2012 as the Grand National Party.

As highlighted in the ongoing defamation trial of the former Seoul bureau chief of the right-leaning Sankei Shimbun, Park has shown intolerance toward public criticism of her government. Her administration is apparently determined to intimidate or even entirely shut down those media outlets that have persistently opposed official policies.

Investigative journalist Choo Chin-woo, 41, is at the center of one of the most troubling media suppression cases now underway in South Korea.

Choo said in a recent interview that he has received at least seven death threats on his mobile and office phones from anonymous callers since 2011, when the presidential election kicked off. Although he doesn’t know the source of the threats, he is convinced he is under regular electronic surveillance by government spooks.

It was not so long ago that Choo and three colleagues— Kim Ou-joon, Chung Bong-ju and Kim Yong-min — were news media superstars.

In April 2011 the four men launched a political commentary podcast called “Naneun Ggomsuda,” which roughly translates into English as “I’m a Petty-Minded Creep.”

The podcast became hugely popular. Downloads reached a rate of more than 2 million a week, making it one of the top Apple iTunes features not only in South Korea, but also globally.

What drew in their mass audience was a blend of humor, political commentary and utter irreverence toward the government and big business. In these no-holds-barred podcasts, the hosts mercilessly lampooned the conservative regime of then-President Lee Myung-bak.

But it is also fair to say that if one part of the public was eating it up, then the targets of the satire — the establishment — was enraged by the rise of this comedy team and the subversive political messages it promoted.

The hostility was mutual.

Satirist Kim Ou-joon told the Wall Street Journal in November 2011, “Our goal is to change the government.” He explained that South Koreans had become too educated and too sophisticated to waste any more of the nation’s time on conservative, backward-looking governments like the Lee administration.

The first of the four irreverent podcasters to be taken down was Chung Bong-ju, a former lawmaker. He was slapped with a one-year jail sentence for “spreading false rumors” about an alleged stock fraud he accused Lee of engaging in while in office, and was imprisoned at the end of 2011.

Then in 2012, parliamentary and presidential elections turned out quite contrary to the hopes and expectations of the podcasters, as the conservative Lee administration was replaced by the even more conservative Park administration.

The campaign was often dirty, leading to last year’s indictment of officials of the National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s spy agency, for allegedly engaging in smear campaigns on Twitter to support Park’s election and slander the opposition forces.

With his country’s intelligence agency being what it is, Choo said he used 35 different mobile phones in 2012 to avoid being listened in on during the election campaign period.

Their fears were quickly realized: Park’s younger brother, Park Ji-man, launched a defamation case in December 2012 against both Choo and Kim Ou-joon, leading to the immediate suspension of their wildly popular podcast and the silencing of what had become perhaps the most effective voice of the political opposition within South Korea’s media world.

Over the course of 2013, this developed into a criminal case against the journalist and the satirist, once again the charge being that they had “spread false rumors” — this time in connection to their suspicions that Park Ji-man was connected to a murder.

Prosecutors are seeking a three-year prison term for Choo and two years for Kim.

The court’s verdict is expected in January.

Even if they are found to be entirely innocent, they will still be liable for paying their own substantial legal fees.

Kim, 44, said he believes the purpose of the prosecution is to intimidate the news media.

“They have deliberately postponed our trial repeatedly so that we cannot return to our previous journalistic activities, and they want to make an example of us for having spoken out against the powerful,” he said. “This prosecution is to pressure other media outlets into silence.”

In fact, South Korea’s unusual and harsh laws on criminal defamation have long been controversial, and almost every president has used them to pursue their opponents.

Park Geun-hye is thus engaged in an activity that has many precedents.

What appears to set her government apart, however, is the frequency and intensity with which this tactic is being utilized. The cases against the podcasters hardly represent the only such prosecution going on at the moment, as several larger media outfits are also facing defamation charges from the president and her inner circle.

And now, the case against Tatsuya Kato, Sankei’s former Seoul bureau chief, has added a new, international dimension.

In August, Kato, 48, wrote a column for the Sankei’s website in which he repeated rumors reported in the major South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo that President Park was mysteriously missing for several hours on April 16 — the day of the tragic sinking of the ferry Sewol.

Kato suggested, quoting from the newspaper and gossip circulating in the stock brokerage industry, that the president was out of communication and “meeting privately” with a male acquaintance.

The Park government took no action against the Chosun Ilbo, which first produced the story, but it launched a criminal prosecution against Kato, who represents a foreign newspaper that is quite unpopular in South Korea because of its revisionist editorial line on history issues.

Kim Ou-joon, observing the Kato case, said: “They made the safe choice of picking on the Sankei while avoiding a direct conflict against their nation’s top newspaper, clearly in the hopes that anti-Japanese sentiment will work its magic to cover up their true intentions.”

When contacted for comment by The Japan Times, Yoo Myung-hee, spokeswoman for the foreign media at the Office of the President, said: “The Korean government protects the freedom of the press to the fullest extent in accordance with the constitution of the Republic of Korea and the law. All media organizations in Korea are afforded the enjoyment of such freedom of expression. However, this does not extend to a freedom to commit defamation through the publication of false information as fact.”

Major South Korean newspapers have not taken these prosecutions lying down, and some have even offered a partial defense of Kato.

The progressive Hankyoreh newspaper, for example, editorialized that while Kato had clearly written “a shoddy, sensational piece,” the president nevertheless “needs to give up her shameful defamation case” against the Japanese reporter.

The paper added that “while the reporter deserves criticism on an ethical level, there is no reason why he should be the subject of a criminal prosecution.”

The view that such legal cases are problematic and out of step with international standards is reinforced by a June 2013 report by Margaret Sekaggya, then-U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Sekaggya specifically cited South Korea’s criminal defamation laws as an area of particular concern, arguing that such cases “unduly punish those who are critical of government policies and considerably reduce the space for defenders to exercise the basic right to freedom of expression, which is key to claiming other rights.”

Kato, now facing up to seven years in prison for the crime of reporting a story he picked up from one of the nation’s leading newspapers, was more full-throated in his criticism in a recent interview. While he is not under arrest, Kato has been banned from leaving the country pending his trial, in which he has pleaded not guilty to defaming the president.

“On the surface, Korea looks like a democratic state, but nowadays the government has begun building a scheme to repress the media in a sophisticated way, all of it within the framework of the legal and administrative system,” he said.

According to Kato, his trial will continue until around April, with a ruling expected around next spring or early summer.

Makiko Segawa is the Japan correspondent for Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and Michael Penn is president of the Shingetsu News Agency.
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