Professor stands trial for defaming 'comfort women'

Professor stands trial for defaming 'comfort women'
Park Yu-Ha talks to the media outside a court in Seoul on January 20, 2016.
PHOTO: AFP

Only a week after a Seoul court ordered a university professor to compensate the nation's sex slavery victims on defamation charges, she appeared in court again on Wednesday to face a criminal trial.

Park Yu-ha, a professor at Sejong University, was brought to the court after prosecutors indicted her in November on charges of defaming former "comfort women" -- the euphemistic term for Korean women coerced into sex slavery for the Japanese military during World War II -- with her book "Comfort Women of the Empire."

An estimated crowd of 70 including two former comfort women, their advocacy group the House of Sharing, and a few Japanese attended the first hearing held at the Seoul Dongbu District Court.

"The accused included false information in her book, describing the victims as prostitutes who voluntarily went to Japan, had 'comrade-like' relations with the Japanese military and were patriotic to Japan as a member of the Japanese Empire," the prosecutors said. "These severely defamed the victims."

In her book published in 2013, Park argued that the victims volunteered to serve as prostitutes for the Japanese military out of patriotism and some had romantic relationships with Japanese soldiers.

She also noted that Korean collaborators, as well as private Japanese recruiters, were mainly responsible for luring Korean women into the military brothels in Japan. She added that there is no evidence of the Japanese government's involvement in recruiting the sex slaves and running the brothels.

In response to the prosecution's accusations, Park's lawyer said that she had no intention to defame the victims through the book and the work was only to promote the public good based on truth.

"The book used the term 'the comfort women of the empire' to describe a group of comfort women as a whole, not to specify individuals," the lawyer said. "So it is not defamation against individuals."

Park asked the court to proceed the trial under a jury system, saying she could no longer trust the nation's judiciary. Last week, the civil court ordered her to pay 10 million won (S$11,900) to each of nine women, who had filed a suit against Park in 2014, in financial compensation for defamation.

Under the jury system, residents aged 20 or older living in the jurisdiction are randomly chosen to serve as jury. But their verdict is not legally binding and can be overruled by judges. The court is set to decide whether to refer the case to the jury system after reviewing their evidence.

"I am not sure whether the court had serious interest, sense of justice and duty. I cannot accept the previous verdicts (that found me guilty of defamation)," Park told a slew of reporters at the scene as she left the courtroom. "I wrote the book to contribute to clarifying the (comfort women) issue that has remained unsolved for the past 60 years."

She said various voices on the issue have been dismissed, as advocacy groups for the comfort women have dominated the agenda and imposed what she called a one-sided theory. She cited her interviews with some surviving victims who she claimed agreed to the content in her book.

"The women are now being held hostage by interest groups," Park said, targeting the victims' rights groups that have refused Japan's apology and humanitarian aid.

She plans to disseminate the content of her book free of charge online to open a public debate on the comfort women issue.

The victims, however, lashed out at Park's claims, accusing her of colluding with Japan to "distort" history.

"The woman said she could receive 2 billion won from high-ranking Japanese officials if we did not file a complaint," Yoo Hee-nam, a former comfort woman, told the reporters. "Her books should be removed and she should apologise. She has no right to live on Korean soil."

Another victim Lee Ok-seon said, "Why do you think we came to the court today in this cold when we cannot even walk properly? ... We should win against Japan and restore our honour."

The next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 29.

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