South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol arrives for a State Banquet in London, Britain, on November 22, 2023.
South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol arrives for a State Banquet in London, Britain, on November 22, 2023. The investigative outlet Newstapa has faced multiple raids following the publication of a report that officials claimed defamed Yoon. (Reuters/Isabel Infantes)

CPJ urges South Korea to stop intimidation of Newstapa after raid on editor’s home

New York, December 8, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on South Korean authorities to cease harassing journalists at the investigative outlet Newstapa after a December 6 raid on the residence of its editor-in-chief Kim Yong Jin over a 2022 report that officials claimed defamed President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Newstapa’s office in the capital, Seoul, and the homes of two of its journalists were also raided on September 14, 2023, in connection with the report, which was published three days before Yoon won the March 9, 2022, elections, Kim told CPJ.

The outlet had reported on a claim that Yoon, as a prosecutor in 2011, had failed to indict a man involved in a banking and development scandal due to lobbying, according to news reports. Yoon denied the accusation and a freelance researcher who contributed to the Newstapa report is under scrutiny as to whether there was bribery involved in his work, those reports said.

The cellphones of Kim and the two Newstapa journalists were seized during those raids, said Kim, who founded the award-winning online news outlet of the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism in 2012.

“South Korean authorities must immediately end their harassment and intimidation of Newstapa and its journalists, who have been on the forefront of exposing the wrongdoings of officials and elites,” Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, said on Friday. “The latest raid underscores the deteriorating press freedom in South Korea. Journalists must be allowed to report freely, especially in the run-up to the country’s legislative elections in April.”

At around 8am on December 6, a team of investigators, forensic experts, and prosecutors from the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office arrived at Kim’s house, the journalist said. When he asked them to wait until his lawyer arrived, the investigators brought in police officers and firefighters “to forcibly open the door,” said Kim.

“It seemed they were prepared to break in if I didn’t open it,” said the editor, describing the investigations as “excessive and aggressive” and aimed at silencing media outlets critical of Yoon.

The presidential office did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment.

Newstapa has contributed to a series of global investigations, including the Pandora Papers and the Panama Papers, which revealed corruption linked to high-profile South Korean figures.