17 July 1998
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is
gravely concerned over the continued imprisonment of
two Korean journalists for criminal defamation
stemming from last year's presidential campaign.
On July 2, a Seoul court sentenced Ham Yun Shik,
the publisher of One Way magazine, to one year
in prison on charges brought by the National Congress
for New Politics (NCNP), your political party, as a
result of highly critical articles regarding your
background and political ideology published in the
magazine in 1997. Ham was initially arrested and
charged on February 28.
Son Chung Mu, the publisher of Inside the
World magazine, remains in jail on charges of
criminal defamation also growing out of his magazine's
coverage of last year's presidential campaign. Son was
arrested on June 1 and his case is still pending. He
is scheduled to go to court on July 20.
Similar charges have also been brought against Chon
Bong Jae, publisher of World Korea magazine. He
has gone into hiding to avoid arrest, according to our
CPJ first brought our concerns over these cases to
your attention in a letter dated June 1, but we did
not receive a response.
We are alarmed by the vigorous prosecution of these
cases, particularly since they coincide with your
government's July 1 announcement that a large number
of the 500 political prisoners in South Korea will be
released on August 15, the 50th anniversary of the end
of the Japanese occupation and of the founding of the
South Korean government.
As a nonpartisan organization that defends press
freedom around the world, CPJ believes strongly that
no journalist should be jailed as a result of what he
or she writes. We believe that sufficient remedies
exist in civil law to redress legitimate claims of
defamation. Defamation is not considered a criminal
offense in most democratic countries and the use of
criminal defamation statutes has a chilling effect on
Therefore, we strongly urge you to examine closely
the matter of Son Chung Mu and Ham Yun Shik and to
consider releasing them at the earliest possible time.
Please also consider dropping criminal charges against
Chong Bong Jae. Given the promised release of
political prisoners, a gesture of leniency now in
these cases would seem particularly appropriate.
We further urge you to set in motion the abrogation
of South Korea's harsh criminal defamation laws to
ensure that journalists are protected from
imprisonment in the future and that such statutes do
not stand in the way of South Korea's admirable
strides over the last decade toward becoming a vibrant
We appreciate your attention and await your
Ann K. Cooper