A plea to participate in the Comfort Women of Empire litigation support

On October 27, 2017, the Seoul High Court ruled in favor of the prosecution which had alleged Professor Park Yuha in her recent work Comfort Women of Empire had impugned the honor of the former comfort women, and as a consequence found her liable for the sum of one million won. The decision represented an absolute shock for all people both within and outside of Korea who believed the country to be one which respected and upheld academic freedom of expression. The first trial, conducted at the Eastern District Court in Seoul, over the course of a year weighed up the academic and historical evidence and found Professor Park innocent of the charges brought by the prosecution and representatives of a group of former comfort women. We cannot escape the sense of profound disquiet at the seeming ease with which the second trial overturned the verdict of the lower court and returned a verdict of guilt.

All the evidence presented by the prosecution at the second trial as evidence of defamation in the book Comfort Women of Empire, had in the first court case been examined by the Eastern District Court which acquitted Professor Park of the charges of defaming the former comfort women. Simultaneously, given the historical issues surrounding the comfort women are a matter of deep and passionate public concern, the opinion of the court gave broad assurance of the willingness to uphold and protect freedom of academic expression. This judgement, which symbolized both the rationality and publicness of the Korean judicial authorities, was however completely overturned at the time of the second trial.

Turning to the verdict itself, the basis of the conviction can be summarized into two parts. First, that the author presented “false fact,” and secondly that there was “deliberation” behind the motive to defame the former comfort women. The Seoul High Court accepted the view of the prosecution that the author’s perception of the comfort women was “false” on the ground that it diverged from the “correct” view held in certain circles of domestic Korean and international society. Moreover, as to the criterion of “willfulness” introduced in the court verdict this was based on the determination Professor Park Yuha wrote her work with the awareness it would have the “effect” of lowering the social evaluation of the comfort women.

Inescapably, this decision represents a disquieting stance towards academic research. In relation to the historical issues surrounding the comfort women, the decision of the court introduced a criterion of “correctness” and “falsity” that is sure to hinder active scholarly research into an issue at the heart of Japanese and Korean contemporary disputation. Moreover, treating Professor Park’s work as defamatory, regardless of whether the book itself is defamatory per se, but as a consequence of the “effect” which would occur when one reads the text with a specific political or ideological purpose, is exaggerated. We have little recourse but to question whether in fact the verdict of the second trial will have a chilling effect on academic activities into issues which touch on sensitive societal and national questions.

Still regardless of the so-called pros or cons of the work Comfort Women of Empire, we strongly believe that the judgement of the Seoul High Court in the second trial represents a profound threat to the freedoms of the Korean academic and cultural worlds. Through its rendering of a guilty verdict, the judiciary set forth a criterion by which Korean scholarly and cultural worlds must hew only to the historical perception sanctioned as “right” by mainstream groups in Korean society.

As long as scholarly work that differs from the interests and position of mainstream social groups are subject to punishment, the text of the Korean constitution guaranteeing academic freedom is little more than rhetoric. Before the verdict of the second trial, many felt ideological control had disappeared with the demise of the military dictatorship, yet now one cannot escape the sense that ideological control has again been resurrected as a means to enforce a uniform and unvarying interpretation of history.

As a result of the decision of the High Court, the road before Professor Park is indeed steep. By the same token, the road before Koreans struggling to express views different from those “deemed to be correct” is unquestionably also steep. When criminal charges were first filed against Professor Park, many in society, as well as academic circles in Korea, Japan, and the West, aware of the seriousness of the situation, called for the judiciary to render a considered judgement. The decision of the first trial confirmed that such efforts were not in vain.

The erroneousness of the conviction handed down at the time of the second trial illustrates indisputably the continued existence and working of state power and societal interests intolerant of “different” opinions which they instead seek to suppress. The occasion of this verdict is the time to express the will of citizen groups to oppose this state of affairs.
Therefore, we are beginning with a drive for donations to support Professor Park Yuha’s case. Although we hold differing views of the problems of history and politics, our fundamental aim in launching of this drive is the defense of the principle of academic freedom, and with it the right to express unpopular opinions even on sensitive national and social issues in Korean society. We sincerely wish for scholars and cultural figures from across the world to participate in our endeavor to ensure that in the future, no one will face conviction and criminal charges for the simple fact of “holding and speaking differing views.”

December 7, 2017
Comfort Women of Empire Litigation Support Group

강신표 Shin-pyo Kang (Inje University, Professor Emeritus)
강운구 Kang Woongu (Photographer)
고영범 Young B. Oh (Playwright)
고종석 Koh Jongsok (Author)
김경옥 kim kyungok (Critic)
김성희 Seonghee KIM (Kaywon University of Art & Design)
김영규 Kim YoungQ (Inha University, Professor Emeritus)
김영용 KIm YoungYong (CEO of The Korea Economic Daily, Retired)
김용균 Yong Kyun Kim (Ehwa Womans University)
김용운 Yong-Woon Kim (Hanyang University)
김우창 Kim Uchang (Korea University)
김원우 Kim Wonwoo (Author)
김택수 Taik Soo Kim (CEO of Publisher The Orijin)
김철 Kim Chul (Yonsei University, Professor Emeritus)
남기정 Nam Kijeong (Seoul National University)
라종일 Ra Jongyil (Former South Korea Ambassador)
박경수 Park Kyungsoo (Kangneung-Wonju national University)
박삼헌 Park Samheon (Konkuk University)
배수아 Bae Suah (Author)
서현석 Seo Hyun-Suk (Yonsei University)
신형기 Shin Hyung Ki (Yonsei University)
안병직 Byong Jick Ahn (Seoul National University, Professor Emeritus)
유 준 Yoo Jun (Yonsei University)
윤성호 Yoon Songho (Dongseo University)
윤해동 Hae-Dong Yun (Hanyang University)
이강민 Kangmin Yi (Hanyang University)
경순 Kyung Soon (Film director)
이경훈 Lee Kyounghoon (Yonsei University)
이대근 Dae-Keun LEE (Sungkyunkwan University, Professor Emeritus)
이순재 Lee, Soon-Jae (Sejong University)
이영훈 Lee Younghun (Seoul National University, Retired/Naksungdae Institute of Economic research)
이제하 Je Ha Lee (Author)
정종주 JEONG Jong-joo (CEO of Publisher Of puripari)
조관자 Jo Gwanja (Seoul National University)
조석주 Seok-ju Cho (Sungkyunkwan University)
조용래 Cho Yongrea (The Kukmin Daily Executive Editor)
최규승 Choi Kyu Seung (Poet)
최범 Choi Bum (Critic)
황영식 Hwang Youngsik (Chief editorial writer)
황종연 Jongyon Hwang (Donguk University)
황호찬 Ho Chan Hwang (Sejong University)
김학성 HAK SUNG KIM (Dabud Law Office)
김향훈 Kim HyangHoon (Law Firm Centro)
이성문 LEE SEONG MUN (Law Firm Myongdo)
이동직 Dong Jik Lee (law Firm Sinwon)
이민석 Minseok Lee (Minseok Lee law Office)
최명규 Choi Myung Kyu (Choi Myung Kyu Law Office)
허중혁 Hur ZungHyuk (Hur ZungHyuk Law Office)
홍세욱 Hong Sae Uk (Law Firm H’s)
한정호 Han Jung-Ho (Chungbuk University)
50 Participants

浅野豊美 Asano Toyomi (Waseda University)
天江喜七郎 Amae Kishichiro (Diplomat, Retired)
岩崎稔 Iawasaki Minoru (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)
池田香代子 Ikeda Kayoko (Translator)
上野千鶴子 Ueno Chizuko (Tokyo University, Professor Emeritus)
大江健三郎Oe Kenzaburo (Author)
小倉紀蔵 Ogura Kizo (Kyoto University)
尾山令仁 Oyama Reiji (Pastor, Theologian)
加納実紀代 Kano Mikiyo (Keiwagakuen University, retired)
清眞人 Kiyoshi Mahito (Kinki University, retired)
金枓哲 KIM Doo-Chul (Okyama University)
熊木勉 Kumaki Tsutomu (Tenri University)
古城佳子 Kojo Yoshiko(Tokyo University)
小森陽一 Komori Yoichi (Tokyo University)
佐藤時啓 Sato Tokihiro (Tokyo University of Arts, Photographer)
篠崎美生子 Shiozaki Mioko (Keisen Woman University)
竹内栄美子 Takeuchi Emiko (Meiji University)
東郷和彦 Togo Kazuhiko (Kyotosagyo University)
東郷克美 Togo Katsumi (Waseda Universuty)
成田龍一 Narita Ryuichi (Nihon Woman University)
中川成美 Nakagawa Shigemi (Riteumeika University)
中沢けい Nakazawa Kei (Hosei University/Author)
西成彦 Nishi Masahiko (Riteumeika University)
西田勝 Nishida Masaru (Literary Critic)
朴晋暎 Area Park (Photographer)
朴貞蘭 Park Jeongran (Oita Prefectural College of Arts and Culture)
深川由起子 Fukagawa Yukiko (Waseda University)
藤井貞和 Fujii Sadakazu (Tokyo University, Professor Emeritus)
和田春樹 Wada Haruki (Tokyo University, Professor Emeritus)
Gregory Clark (International University of Japan, Professor Emeritus)
四方田犬彦 Yomota Inuhiko (Film history, Comparative Literature)
千田有紀 Senda Yuki (Musasi University)
榎本隆司 Enomoto Takashi (Professor Emeritus, Waseda University)
33 Participants

Andrew Gordon (Harvard University)
Brett de Bary (Cornell University)
Bruce Cumings (Chicago University)
Chizuko Allen (Hawaii University)
Daqing Yang (George Washington University)
Jin-Kyung Lee (University of California San Diego)
John Treat (Yale University)
Mark Selden (Cornell University)
Michael K. Bourdaghs (University of Chicago)
Miyong Kim (University of Texas at Austin)
Noam Chomsky (MIT)
Sakai Naoki (Cornell University)
Sheldon Garon (Princeton University)
Tomi Suzuki (Columbia University)
Thomas Berger (Boston University)
William W. Grimes (Boston University)
Sejin Park (Adelaide University, retired, Australia)
Alexander Bukh (Wellington Victoria University, New Zealand)
Reiko Abe Auestad (Oslo University, Norway)
Amae Yoshihisa (Chang Jung Christian University, Taiwan)
20 Participants

103 Participants

If you have any questions, please send us an e-mail to
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[email protected] (Voices of Reconciliation and Peace in East Asia)