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Travel Ban Extended on Japanese Journalist, Next Hearing Monday

Tatsuya Kato, a Japanese journalist on trial accused of defaming the South Korean President, said that a ban on his leaving the country had been extended by 90 days. Meanwhile, observers watch and wait as the ROK’s strict libel laws draw more attention.

“I was told by my lawyers that the ban on my leaving the country had been renewed for three more months,” Tatsuya Kato told AFP last week, leading up to his next hearing Monday.

The charges against Kato are criminal libel, which stem from an August 2014 article Kato wrote about Park’s whereabouts on the day the Sewol passenger ferry sinking. Kato charges are punishable by up to seven years in jail.

The case has strained relations between Tokyo and Seoul while at the same time garnering international concern about media freedom in South Korea.

The travel ban on the former Seoul bureau chief of Japan’s conservative daily Sankei Shimbun has been in place since August last year.

Kato contends that he had no intention of defaming Park.

The next hearing is scheduled for Monday.

International Attention

The case has drawn concern from international free speech advocates, including the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, who have voiced concern about what some say is a lack of tolerance for dissent in South Korea.

Critics say that the country’s system hampers the press by placing the burden of proof in such cases on defendants rather than on prosecutors, or on those who say they were defamed –even if the alleged victims of libel are public figures.

This comes as the country recently expelled a Korean-American author on charges that she praised North Korea –followed by the arrest of a Korean activist last week on charges of breaking the country’s anti-communist National Security Law over comments she made about North Korea.

Two Journalists Acquitted

In related news, two South Korean journalists who have been vocal critics of President Park were acquitted Friday, on appeal, from charges of defaming Park’s brother, in a case that rights groups saw as a test of freedom of speech.

 

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