Professor Acquitted on Defamation Charges against Comfort Women

Professor Acquitted on Defamation Charges against Comfort Women

SEOUL, Jan. 25 (Yonhap) -- A local court on Wednesday acquitted a South Korean scholar of defaming women who were sexually enslaved by Japan during World War II through her controversial book.

   The Seoul Eastern District Court found Park Yu-ha, a professor at Seoul's Sejong University, not guilty of the charges, saying academic freedom is a basic right guaranteed by the Constitution.

   Park was indicted in November 2015 over her book, "Comfort Women of the Empire," which has been accused by victims and some civic groups of disputing the coerciveness of the "comfort women" system.

   Prosecutors said Park defamed victims by describing some of them as "voluntary prostitutes" or "comrades" of Japanese soldiers.

   "The opinion rolled out in the defendant's book can raise criticism, objection and could also be abused by those who deny the coerciveness of the comfort women system. But it is, in any case, a matter of value judgment that goes over the authority or ability that can be executed by the court under the procedures of criminal cases," the court said.

   It said academic freedom should not only protect those that are deemed right, but also those considered wrong.

   "Judgment on the defendant's opinion should be carried out by experts or citizens in the realm of academia or society through discussion," it added.

   Prosecutors had sought three years in prison for Park.

   After the ruling was delivered, victims who attended the sentencing trial expressed dissatisfaction.

   Their legal representative Yang Seung-bong said the ruling is incomprehensible, adding the judges seem to lack interpretation on the book.

   "Who I have been fighting against was not the victims, but basically those groups that support them and other powers, such as the academic circle, press and the politics surrounding the groups," Park told reporters. "It was so hard to stand against them alone. I appreciate the court for looking at the matter accurately." 

   Regarding the outrage expressed from the victims, Park said she believes they will understand if she fully explains the matter to them.

   In January last year, the same court ordered Park to compensate nine women who were sexually enslaved by Japan by giving them 10 million won (US$8,300) each for the mental distress they suffered due to her book, released in 2013. The case is pending at a higher court after Park appealed the ruling.

   In February 2015, the court also ordered Park to delete some passages from the book, including one that describes some of the victims as "voluntary prostitutes," in order to continue sales.

   Park released a second version of the book after redacting 34 sections and has distributed the book free of charge on her website since last year.

   Historians estimate that more than 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during the war. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. The victims are euphemistically called "comfort women."

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