Prison term sought for Japanese journalist

Tatsuya Kato
Tatsuya Kato

SEOUL • Japan voiced regret and concern yesterday after South Korean prosecutors demanded an 18-month jail term for a Japanese journalist accused of defaming President Park Geun Hye.

The case involving Tatsuya Kato, the former Sankei Shimbun bureau chief in Seoul, is striking a sour note at a time when the often-frosty South Korea-Japan relationship is showing signs of a thaw.

Kato was put on trial in December last year on a charge of criminal libel for an article he wrote regarding Ms Park's whereabouts on the day the Sewol passenger ferry sank.

The article picked up rumours circulating in the South Korean media that the unmarried Ms Park had disappeared for a tryst with her former aide at the time of the disaster.

Arguing that Kato had "clearly intended" to defame Ms Park, prosecutors on Monday said they would seek an 18-month prison term. The verdict is expected on Nov 26.

At a regular press briefing in Tokyo yesterday, Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the demand for a custodial sentence was "extremely regrettable".

Mr Suga said Tokyo had officially voiced its concern over the case several times, "from the viewpoint of freedom of press, freedom of expression and bilateral ties between Japan and South Korea".

After being banned from leaving South Korea for nine months, Kato was finally allowed to return to Tokyo in April, but is expected to be in court when the verdict is delivered.

Media freedom group Reporters Without Borders issued a statement on Monday arguing that Kato's alleged offence did not merit jail time.

"We urge the South Korean judicial authorities not to impose a prison sentence, which would be disproportionate, and to take account of the fact that the offending article was based on reports already accessible online whose authors have not been prosecuted," the statement said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'Prison term sought for Japanese journalist'. Print Edition | Subscribe