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