South Korean journalist ordered home from Iraq

Hong Kong, August 15, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned that the government of South Korea ordered home documentary filmmaker Kim Young Me from Iraq, where she was on assignment.

Kim returned to Seoul on August 9, after leaving Iraq on August 3. She had been embedded with American forces in Iraq’s dangerous Diyala province, when U.S. military authorities were told she did not have her government’s permission to stay in Iraq. When she arrived in Seoul, she was told by immigration authorities to wait to be contacted by police, and not to leave the country. As of today, the police have not summoned her.

Last year, the South Korean government enacted a criminal law that restricted the travel of South Koreans specifically to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. Anyone wanting to travel to those countries must first get permission from the Foreign Ministry, which Kim did not do. Punishment for violating the law is up to one year in prison or a fine of up to 3 million won ($2,890).

“These travel restrictions on journalists are onerous,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The government must balance its concern between security and the right of journalists to pursue a story wherever it will take them. Kim Young Me is a committed journalist pursuing important but dangerous stories in all corners of the world. We call on the authorities to stop pursuing her and drop this case.” 

Kim is an experienced, award-winning documentary filmmaker and a member of the Korean Producers and Directors Association.

“I don’t think the government has the right to tell journalists where they are allowed to go,” she told CPJ by phone from Seoul. “We must be allowed to travel freely to pursue stories. The government should not be allowed to interfere with our work.”