S.Korean Professor Found Not Guilty of Defaming “Comfort Women”

Mike Ahn, Jan. 25, 2017, 10:29 a.m.

A South Korean university professor was found not guilty of defaming the Korean women sexually enslaved by Japan during World War II through her much-disputed book on Wednesday. The Seoul Eastern District Court ruled in favor to Park Yu-ha, 59, a professor of Japanese literature at Seoul’s Sejong University, citing importance of freedom of expression to encourage a public discourse. 

“The subject of the defamation was the comfort women as a whole,” the court said in the verdict. “Even if there were partially defamatory expressions in the book, it is hard to see they hurt the plaintiffs’ reputation.” 

Nine of the former “comfort women” -- the euphemistic term for Korean women coerced into sex slavery for the Japanese military -- filed a defamation suit, denouncing the book for describing the victims as “prostitutes” and “collaborators with the Japanese military.”

In the book, Park said that the women had volunteered to serve as prostitutes for the Japanese military out of patriotism and there is no evidence of the Japanese government’s involvement in luring the women into sex slavery.  

Following the ruling, a former comfort woman Lee Yong-soo, 88, expressed fury. “Isn’t there a law? She should be found guilty. This is not right!” she told reporters outside the courtroom, calling the professor Park “pro-Japanese collaborator.” “If they told us to take us to factories and made us sex slaves, shouldn’t someone take responsibility?”

Park, on the other hand, signified her satisfaction. “It was a right ruling. Thank the judges who reasonably proceeded with the case,” she told reporters. Park has argued that the book was a mere expression of her opinion for the public good to clarify the controversial diplomatic issue based on her academic research. She also hit back at the prosecution for misinterpreting its content without grasping the full context. 

The prosecution asked for a three-year prison term, saying “Park had no remorse even after causing a scar to the victims by intentionally distorting historical facts. The freedom of expression is an essence of democracy, but insulting others cannot be tolerated.”

The same court earlier in January 2016 ordered Park to pay 10 million won to each of the nine former comfort women who filed a civil suit seeking a financial compensation for mental distress the book has inflicted on them.

It is estimated that up to 200,000 women were forced to be sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the war, with many of them being Korean. Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women has remained one of the key sources of diplomatic dispute between South Korea and Japan. 

The countries reached a historic deal defined as “final and irreversible” on Dec. 28, 2015 in which Japan promised to pay 10 billion yen to a Korean-run foundation for the surviving victims in return for Seoul’s promise not to raise the issue again in international forums. 

But some of the comfort women and their rights groups have protested the deal, calling for an official and legal compensation from the Japanese government.

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