Re­porter heads home af­ter S. Korea lifts travel ban

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

A Ja­panese jour­nal­ist, on trial for al­legedly de­fam­ing South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye, headed home Tues­day af­ter Seoul lifted a travel ban.

How­ever, Tat­suya Kato, the for­mer Seoul bureau chief of Ja­pan’s con­ser­va­tive Sankei Shimbun news­pa­per, must re­turn to court later this month over his col­umn re­gard­ing Park’s where­abouts on the day the Se­wol ferry sank a year ago, with the loss of more than 300 lives.

“Hon­estly, this is only the first step to­wards the res­o­lu­tion of a sit­u­a­tion that de­fies com­mon sense,” Kato told Fuji News Net­work be­fore leav­ing Gimpo In­ter­na­tional Air­port for Tokyo’s Haneda air­port.

His col­umn, pub­lished

in the on­line edi­tion of the Sankei in Au­gust, sug­gested the un­mar­ried pres­i­dent had dis­ap­peared for an ill-timed tryst with her for­mer aide.

The travel ban has been in force since days af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion and was sched­uled to end this month.

The next hear­ing for the defama­tion trial is set for April 20.

“The ban was lifted on hu­man­i­tar­ian and other grounds,” a se­nior pros­e­cu­tor told AFP in Seoul.

“There was a con­sen­sus that hear­ings and de­bate on con­tentious is­sues have been al­most com­pleted, and Kato promised to come back af­ter see­ing his ail­ing mother,” he added.

Kato has de­nied crim­i­nal li­bel, which could see him jailed for up to seven years, say­ing his ob­jec- tive had been to re­port the public per­cep­tion of Park in the wake of the Se­wol dis­as­ter.

South Korean defama­tion law fo­cuses on whether what was said or writ­ten was in the public in­ter­est — rather than whether it was true.

Ja­pan’s t op gov­ern­ment spokesman, Chief Cabi­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga, said he was pleased by the devel­op­ment.

“For our na­tion, this lat­est step is only nat­u­ral,” Suga said. “But the court pro­ceed­ings are con­tin­u­ing. The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to call on South Korea to take ap­pro­pri­ate steps.”

Me­dia free­dom group Re­porters With­out Bor­ders has de­fended the Sankei jour­nal­ist, while Ja­pan has for­mally voiced grave con- cern over Kato’s pros­e­cu­tion and ques­tioned Seoul’s com­mit­ment to press free­dom.

Park’s for­mer aide, Jeong Yunhoe, tes­ti­fied in court that the Sankei col­umn had pre­sented “ground­less slan­der” as fact rather than ru­mor.

Jeong had worked as an ad­viser for Park while she was still a law­maker, but quit his po­si­tion in 2007 — sev­eral years be­fore she suc­cess­fully ran for pres­i­dent.

The Sankei, a ro­bust cen­ter­right daily that has cam­paigned to re­verse an apol­ogy from Ja­pan for forc­ing Korean women into wartime broth­els, has sug­gested it is be­ing sin­gled out by Korean au­thor­i­ties.

The case has ag­gra­vated al­ready-strained re­la­tions be­tween Seoul and Tokyo.

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