Dokdo libel claim gets no support from Seoul court

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Dokdo libel claim gets no support from Seoul court

A local court has thrown out a class-action lawsuit seeking a libel ruling against a newspaper that published a “groundless report” about a Korea-Japan summit on the Dokdo islets.

While the Seoul Central District Court found that the 1,886 plaintiffs seeking 400 million won ($357,000) in damages and a retraction lacked standing for their complaint, the plaintiffs say they will appeal the ruling to set the record straight - and they plan to sue President Lee Myung-bak while they’re at it.

On July 15, 2008, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Lee did not strongly protest when then-Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda referred to the islets as “Takeshima” and said it would be referred to by that name in middle-school textbooks.

The report said that rather than object, Lee only told Fukuda that “the timing was not right” and asked Japan to “wait.”

The governments of both Korea and Japan denied the report shortly after its publication; and indeed, without officially ruling on the veracity of the news account, in comments yesterday the court did say that Lee made no such remarks during the summit.

That’s not good enough for the plaintiffs, who claimed their honor and self-esteem were damaged by the newspaper report.

Lee Jae-myung, the Democratic Party’s deputy spokesman and a lawyer representing the plaintiffs - some of whom were members of anti-Lee Myung-bak administration Internet groups - insists the president “betrayed the people by giving up the rights to Dokdo.”

“It is regrettable that the court avoided its responsibility to make a judgment in a historic case over the Dokdo,” the lawyer said. “We will appeal the dismissal.”

He also said he will ask the Seoul Administrative Court to order the government to disclose the records on the summit.

The newspaper itself argued at trial that the suit was “politically motivated.”

“For the plaintiffs to become victims of defamation, they should have been named in the story and suffered humiliation,” the court said.

“Although the plaintiffs claimed that their honor and self-esteem were infringed by the newspaper, they cannot be regarded as victims of defamation under the civil codes.”


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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