Japanese journalist indicted for defaming South Korean President

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has strongly criticised the indictment this week of a Japanese journalist on charges that he defamed South Korea’s President, Park Geun-hye. The decision has received widespread criticism globally and the IFJ said the extreme response by Korean prosecutors casts a pall on the country’s press freedom record.

Tatsuya Kato, a 48-year-old journalist and the former Seoul bureau chief of Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun, was charged with defamation on Wednesday, October 8 after the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office concluded an article written by the journalist was based on ‘false information’. The article, published on August 3, suggested that South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye was slow to respond to the ferry disaster that took 300 lives in Sewol, in April 2014, because she may have been having a romantic encounter with a former aide.

If found guilty, Kato faces up to seven years in prison.

Kato has not yet been arrested but is barred from leaving Korea. Japan’s government has strongly criticism the move and described it as putting a strain on Japan-South Korea diplomatic relations. Critics of South Korea’s President say the investigation is a clear attempt to clamp down on journalists in an attempt to control the president’s image. Yoon Doo-hyun, the president’s head of public relations has threatened ‘grave action’ against Sankei Shimbun for the report yet at this stage no action has been taken against the newspaper.

The Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers’ Union said that it is concerning that news organisations aren’t freely able to report on the behaviors of the leaders of the country, which clearly impedes on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. They have also called on the government to withdraw all investigations against Kato and guarantee the freedom of press and media coverage in the democratic nation.

The IFJ Asia Pacific acting director Jane Worthington said “The indictment of Tatsuya Kato is a clear case of direct targeting of a journalist by strong political influences on a matter of significant public interest.”

The IFJ said it is also understood that the journalist in question had quoted information from a report that had been published earlier by the major South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

“Media freedom is an important cornerstone of society, and the attempts by the South Korean government to maintain their image by clamping down on journalists and media outlets will be at the detriment of South Korean society and global relations.”

The IFJ has called on the South Korean government to respect media freedoms in the region and withdraw all charges. 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

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