South Korea extends travel ban on Japanese journalist accused of defaming president

SEOUL (AFP) - A Japanese journalist on trial for allegedly defaming South Korean President Park Geun Hye said on Thursday that a ban on his leaving the country had been extended by another three months.

The case has strained relations between Tokyo and Seoul and raised questions about media freedom in South Korea. "I was told by my lawyers that the ban on my leaving the country had been renewed for three more months," Tatsuya Kato told AFP.

The travel ban on the former Seoul bureau chief of Japan's conservative Sankei Shimbun has been in force since August last year. Kato is charged with criminal libel punishable by up to seven years' jail.

The charge stems from an August article he wrote about Ms Park's whereabouts on the day the Sewol passenger ferry sank in April with the loss of around 300 lives. At a preliminary court hearing in November, the journalist insisted he had no intention of defaming Park.

The next hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Media freedom group Reporters Without Borders has criticised the trial, arguing that Kato's report was clearly in the public interest.

South Korean defamation law focuses on whether what was said or written was in the public interest - rather than whether it was true.