Only nat­u­ral for S. Korea to lift its ban on Sankei chief leav­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

The South Korean gov­ern­ment has lifted the de­par­ture ban on a for­mer chief of The Sankei Shimbun’s Seoul Bureau, eight months af­ter bar­ring him from leav­ing the coun­try.

It had been a grave sit­u­a­tion, in­fring­ing the for­mer bureau chief’s fun­da­men­tal right to free­dom of move­ment. The South Korean ac­tion to re­scind the de­par­ture ban should be re­garded as a mat­ter of course, and it was long over­due. The for­mer Sankei bureau head re­turned to Ja­pan on Tues­day night.

The for­mer bureau chief was in­dicted in Oc­to­ber. South Korean au­thor­i­ties said he had de­famed Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye through an ar­ti­cle, posted on a Sankei web­site, that re­ferred to a ru­mor that Park was see­ing a man on the day of the Se­wol ferry dis­as­ter in April last year.

The trial in­volv­ing the for­mer bureau chief is still un­der way at the Seoul Cen­tral Dis­trict Court.

From the in­ves­ti­ga­tion stage of the case, the for­mer bureau chief re­sponded to ques­tion­ing by South Korean pros­e­cu­tors and sub­mit­ted nec­es­sary doc­u­ments. He had promised to ap­pear at trial hear­ings that would fol­low af­ter a tem­po­rary re­turn home, and pledged not to es­cape and de­stroy rel­e­vant ev­i­dence. The Sankei said it would guar­an­tee his prom­ises would be ful­filled.

De­spite all this, the South Korean gov­ern­ment im­posed a de­par­ture ban on the for­mer bureau chief, and ex­tended the prohibition eight times. We must say that th­ese ac­tions were tan­ta­mount to the un­fair use of public author­ity.

In ex­plain­ing its de­ci­sion to end the de­par­ture ban, the South Korean pros­e­cu­tion cited such fac­tors as hav­ing con­cluded ex­am­i­na­tion of all the im­por­tant is­sues con- tested dur­ing the trial. How­ever, the points of con­tention could have been ex­am­ined if the for­mer bureau chief had trav­eled to South Korea from Ja­pan each time a hear­ing was con­ducted.

Pres­i­dent’s Stance Un­clear

Dur­ing the trial, the for­mer bureau head and his de­fense coun­sel de­manded steps be taken to con­firm whether the South Korean pres­i­dent wished to pun­ish him. In South Korea, if a vic­tim ex­plic­itly states that he or she does not want an of­fender to be pun­ished, the lat­ter’s con­duct does not con­sti­tute defama­tion.

The South Korean pres­i­dent has not clar­i­fied her stance re­gard­ing whether she wants the for­mer bureau chief to be pun­ished. What she will choose to do in con­nec­tion with the ques­tion is a new fo­cus of at­ten­tion.

The con­tro­versy over the de­par­ture ban has af­fected diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea. Ja­pan re­peat­edly asked South Korea to lift the ban dur­ing talks be­tween the two na­tions’ for­eign min­is­ters and on other oc­ca­sions.

In his pol­icy ad­dress de­liv­ered at the Diet in Jan­uary last year, Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe de­scribed South Korea as “the most im­por­tant neigh­bor­ing coun­try (with which Ja­pan) shares fun­da­men­tal val­ues and in­ter­ests.”

In a sim­i­lar speech given in Fe­bru­ary, the prime min­is­ter did not re­fer to whether the two na­tions share val­ues. Abe’s stance seems to have re­flected the grow­ing sense that the rule of law, a main demo­cratic prin­ci­ple, has yet to be es­tab­lished in South Korea.

There is no doubt that the prob­lem in­volv­ing the for­mer bureau head is one of the fac­tors be­hind skep­ti­cism about South Korea’s rule of law or lack thereof.

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