South Korean academic convicted of defaming 'comfort women'

Park Yu Ha, of Sejong University in the South Korean capital, was found guilty of defamation for questioning the popular narrative that all so-called "comfort women" were dragged from their homes by Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Park Yu Ha, of Sejong University in the South Korean capital, was found guilty of defamation for questioning the popular narrative that all so-called "comfort women" were dragged from their homes by Japanese soldiers during World War II.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ PARK YUHA

SEOUL (AFP) - A South Korean professor who challenged the consensus view of Japan's war time sex slaves was convicted of defaming the victims on Friday (Oct 27), after a Seoul appeals court overturned an earlier acquittal.

Park Yu Ha, of Sejong University in the South Korean capital, was found guilty of defamation for questioning the popular narrative that all so-called "comfort women" were dragged from their homes by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

In her 2013 book "The Comfort Women of the Empire", she suggested the reality was more complex, with some women volunteering - though without necessarily knowing what their eventual fate would be. Many were told that they would get factory jobs.

The book also suggested some women forged emotional bonds with the soldiers they served, sparking an angry response from surviving victims.

The Seoul High Court on Friday overturned a January verdict by a lower court, which acquitted Park on the premise that academic freedom was a basic right and her opinions were not a criminal issue.

"Park used definitive expressions in some parts of her book which could make readers think that... the victims voluntarily joined military brothels with an intention to sell sex," the appeals court said.

"She inflicted (significant) mental stress on the victims by displaying distorted claims about those forced into sex slavery," it said.

Mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from the then-Japanese colony of Korea but also other parts of Asia including China, were forced to become sex slaves for Tokyo troops.

The issue remains highly sensitive in both South Korea and China, with Seoul and Tokyo engaged in a diplomatic row over memorial statues to the women installed in front of Japanese missions in the South.

The court fined Park to 10 million won ($8,848) - a lighter punishment than a three-year jail term sought by prosecutors.