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ROK government lifts 8-month old travel ban on Sankei reporter

  • 2015-04-15 15:00:00
  • , Sankei
  • Translation

(Sankei: April 15, 2015 – top play)

 

 By Kinya Fujimoto in Seoul

 

 The ROK government lifted on April 14 the travel ban on former Sankei Shimbun Seoul Bureau chief Tatsuya Kato, 48, who is being indicted without arrest for defaming President Park Geun-hye. The ban preventing Kato from leaving South Korea imposed last Aug. 7, which lasted for more than eight months, had developed into a diplomatic issue between Japan and the ROK, and the Japanese government was demanding that the ban be lifted at an early date. Kato returned home on the evening of April 14.

 

 The travel ban had been extended eight times so far, but the Seoul Central District Court decided on April 13 that this was no longer necessary and had requested the Justice Ministry to lift the ban ahead of the next expiration date on April 15. This was granted because Kato had promised to appear in court for hearing on his case and Sankei had vouched for this. The decision was also made out of “humanitarian considerations” because Kato’s mother is ill.

 

 It is very unusual for the ROK to lift a travel ban on a foreigner being prosecuted. Why did the ROK government make the decision at this point in time?

 

 According to a source on judicial affairs, “this must have been based on a political decision.”

 

 In the hearing on March 30, the court determined that rumors [of President Park meeting with a male former aide when the ferry Sewol capsized on April 16, 2014] that Kato reported on were untrue. Therefore, it became easier for President Park to make a political decision after she had achieved her “goal.”

 

 The ROK government is very sensitive about the wording of the statement Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to issue on Aug. 15, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. While the Seoul court emphasized that its decision was based on “humanitarian considerations,” many reckon that this was out of the Park administration’s political consideration in its desire to press Japan for concessions.

 

 Furthermore, in light of Abe’s visit to the U.S. from April 26, the Park government must have wanted to show its efforts to improve Japan-ROK relations, which the U.S. is demanding, in order to hinder Abe diplomacy.

 

 South Korean scholars on Japan had also been taking steps to find a solution to the Kato affair. If the travel ban were extended again (for three months), it would have been difficult to resolve the issue before June 22, the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and this would have affected the commemorative events. (Abridged)

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