On March 2018 Cho Kuk, the Minister of the Ministry of Justice, had filed a complaint regarding criticisms posted on an online blog by a man in his seventies. The blog contained criticisms about the Minister’s work during his years as a Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs in the Blue House. The court of first instance has since found the man guilty of criminal defamation.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, along with other international human rights organizations, have continuously made recommendations that criminal defamation laws be abolished. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression declared that ‘criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws’.1
One cannot claim ownership of one’s reputation. It is something that resides in others’ minds. As was revealed during the former Presidents Lee, and Park’s administration, criminal defamation can be used to protect the reputation of those that are in power. Due to such reasons, criminal defamation laws regarding defamatory comments on public figures have mostly been no longer used in OECD countries. Other countries including the United Kingdom have ruled that such laws are unconstitutional,2 or have repealed them.3 Open Net has been vocal against the use of criminal defamation laws to protect public figures’ reputation.4
This case is especially problematic in that a Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs in the Blue House, who is in the position of aiding the President in policies regarding prosecution and policing, utilized criminal defamation laws to protect his personal reputation.
It is even more concerning now that the ex-Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs in the Blue House has become the Minister of the Ministry of Justice. Although it will be up to the Courts to rule on the issue, the Minister of the Ministry of Justice holds the authority to file and maintain indictments.
Open Net urges the Minister of the Ministry of Justice to halt the prosecution of those who are under investigation for defamation regarding comments on the Minister himself in a show of support of citizens’ right to exercise their freedom of speech in speaking out against public officials’ without fear of criminal prosecution.
September 20, 2019
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- “General comment No. 34”, U.N. Human Rights Committee, 102nd session, published 12 September 2011, www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/GC34.pdf ; Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Administration of Justice, Commercialisation and Freedom of Expression, and Criminal Defamation (2002), available at www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/showarticle.asp?artID=87&lID=1; Tenth Anniversary Joint Declaration: Ten Key Challenges to Freedom Of Expression in the Next Decade (2010), http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/showarticle.asp?artID=784&lID=1; European Court of Human Rights cases, Cumpănă and Mazăre v. Romania, no. 33348/96 (2004), Affaire Belpietro c. Italie, no. 43612/10 (2013), Affaire Mika c. Grèce, no. 10347/10 (2013), Mariapori v. Finland, no. 37751/07 (2013)
- 2016.2.3. Zimbabwe, NEVANJI MADANHIRE, NQABA MATSHAZI V. ATTORNEY-GENERAL; 2016.2.21 The Dominican Republic, case of Miguel Franjul of Listín Diario, Oswaldo Santana of elCaribe and Rafael Molina of El Día – and the Foundation for Press and Law; 2017.2.6 Kenya, Jacqueline Okuta & another v Attorney General & 2 others; 2018.5.18 Lesotho, BASILDON PETA v The Minister of Law Constitutional Affairs and Human rights, Attorney General, and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
- Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Romania, Tajikistan, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom and Ukraine recently abolished criminal defamation.
- 2019.5.17. Open Net Opposes Representative PARK Wansu’s Proposed Bill That Calls for Aggravated Punishment of Cyber Insult, 2019.3.12. Open Net Submitted Opinions on Amendments to the Criminal Act and the Information and Communications Network Act Aimed at Reducing the Scope of Criminal Punishment of Truth Defamation, 2019.2.11. Open Net Submitted an Opinion Opposing the Sentencing Commission’s Sentencing Guidelines on Defamation,
You can read the Korean original here.