Japan reporter charged with defaming Park

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Japan reporter charged with defaming Park

Korean prosecutors indicted the former Seoul bureau chief of the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun, Tatsuya Kato, on charges of defaming President Park Geun-hye on Wednesday.

There is mounting concern that the 48-year-old Kato’s prosecution may have repercussions in the already tense diplomatic relations between Seoul and Tokyo. It is being criticized by Tokyo as a breach of freedom of speech.

The Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office imposed a travel ban on Kato and summoned him for questioning three times about an article stating that Park was missing for seven hours on April 16, the day the Sewol ferry sank. It alleged that she was secretly meeting a recently divorced former aide.

After concluding that the controversial Aug. 3 report was groundless, Seoul prosecutors indicted Kato without detention for defamation of President Park under Korea’s Information and Communications Network Act.

Prosecutors said Kato had attacked the private life of the female president without any evidence and without taking measures to check the facts. They said he cited questionable sources that could not be verified.

Furthermore, prosecutors said, Kato “did not issue an apology, nor show any signs of remorse.”

They added that the travel ban on Kato will be extended in order to ensure he attends the trial slated for next week.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s top government spokesman, expressed “regret” over the indictment at a press briefing yesterday, “both from the viewpoint of the freedom of press as well as Korea-Japan relations.”

He added that Tokyo plans to “express concern to Korea after confirming the facts.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida echoed those remarks, saying the indictment “can have an impact on bilateral relations.”

The Japanese government later that day summoned an official from the Korean Embassy in Tokyo to lodge a complaint on the indictment. A local civic organization filed a defamation suit against the Sankei Shimbun correspondent on Aug. 9.

Kato’s Japanese-language online report entitled “President Park Geun-hye, missing on the day of the ferry’s sinking... With whom did she meet at the time?” cited sources such as a column from the Chosun Ilbo and unidentified sources in Korea’s financial industry.

The Blue House in August submitted documents to the prosecution detailing President Park’s schedule and security details on April 16, that confirmed she was in the Blue House.

Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se expressed Seoul’s disappointment with the “malicious” Sankei Shimbun article in bilateral talks with his Japanese counterpart Kishida in August in Myanmar.

Sankei Shimbun President Takamitsu Kumasaka called for the indictment to be withdrawn as it was “a serious and clear breach of the freedom of speech guaranteed by the constitution of not only Korea, but Japan and any other democratic nation,” in a statement posted on the newspaper’s website.

According to the paper, Kato has since been reassigned to a new post in Japan, but has not been able to take up the position yet. Kato could face imprisonment of up to seven years or a fine of up to 50 million won ($49,000).

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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