The criminal action taken by South Korean prosecutors against a former Seoul bureau chief of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun daily — on the charge that his column posted online in August defamed President Park Geun-hye — raises serious questions about the country’s commitment to freedom of the press. It could border on abuse of power if the South Korean investigators are using the charge of libel against a public figure like the president selectively on members of the media that are critical of her administration.
The column in question quoted rumors originally reported in the South Korean media and circulating in the financial industry that Park was with a man during the seven hours when her whereabouts was unconfirmed on April 16 — the day the passenger ferry Sewol sank and killed more than 300 people, mostly teenagers on a school trip. The writer, Tatsuya Kato, was indicted Oct. 8 without being detained. He had been questioned three times by the prosecutors and banned from leaving the country since early August even though he was relieved of his position as bureau chief as of Oct. 1.