On January 15, all 7 jurors and the full bench acquitted the operator of a website called ‘Bad Fathers’ on a case Open Net took part in as the counsel for the defendant(case number 2019gohap425).
The ruling made clear that revealing a private individual’s information to expose them of wrongdoings could be exempt from criminal prosecution should it be for reasons of public interest. It also showed that such is the prevalent sentiment among the average citizen.
The ‘Bad Fathers’ website lists names, pictures and other identifying information of those who fail to pay child support despite court rulings obligating them to do so and gives the individuals the option to remove themselves from the list by complying to pay said child support. Open Net had previously submitted an opinion to speak out against blocking the website online when the Korea Communications Standard Commission deliberated on the issue in February 2019. Since then, some of the individuals listed on the website filed a criminal complaint against the operator of the website for truth defamation and the operator was tried in court.
The Court found the defendant not guilty and said “the Defendant did not use derogatory or insulting forms of expression when describing the victims(parents who failed to pay child support), the victims, to a large degree, brought the defamatory expressions upon themselves by failing to pay child support, and the defendant’s main objective for operating the website was in line with the public interest of raising awareness of the problems that single parents face when the other parent fail to provide their legally mandated child support. The fact that the defendant may have partially intended to bring matters into his own hands and have parents pay child support by itself does not prove the intent to defame.”
With truth defamation being criminally punishable in Korea, there is a high sense among the average citizen that a person’s honor must be protected at all costs. This ruling provides an important case law that suggests that one should not be criminally punished for speaking out the truth about another if it was done in an effort to raise awareness on social issues in line with public interest. This will give people more freedom to exercise free speech and allow movements like the MeToo movement move forward in Korea.
Honor that can be destroyed by the truth is nothing but a falsehood. Criminally prosecuting those who speak the truth in order to protect such a false sense of honor has a high risk of being unconstitutional.
Even though the defendant was acquitted, the prosecution appealed on January 20 and the defendant must go through the process of being a defendant for the foreseeable future. Even if the final verdict is to see the defendant as being not guilty, he will still have had to go through months of pain and suffering. Under the current law, anyone who wishes to raise awareness by speaking out the truth must face the daunting possibility of being criminally prosecuted. Open Net hopes that the truth defamation law will be abolished in the near future so that such injustices can be resolved.
For more information, please read the Korean original here.