(Sankei: April 15, 2015 – p. 2)
Sankei Shimbun’s former Seoul Bureau chief, Tatsuya Kato has returned home after the ROK Justice Ministry lifted the travel ban preventing him from leaving South Korea. The ban was extended several times and lasted over eight months. The next expiration date was April 15.
Although the lifting of the ban was belated, a logical decision has been made at long last. There had been no reason to ban Kato from leaving the ROK. We reiterate our demand to the ROK prosecutors to also drop charges against Kato.
Kato was indicted without arrest on charges of defamation for writing a column on President Park Geun-hye. His case is still being tried. He will continue to appear at the Seoul Central District Court after returning to Japan.
Kato had dealt with the court hearings so far in good faith. The issue is whether his column was in public interest. There are no evidences to be concealed and there is no risk of his fleeing. The travel ban that lasted more than eight months was unjust.
In the first place, is it right to wield state power against the media? This was a decision that is extremely unusual for a democratic country where the freedom of speech is guaranteed by the constitution.
Last month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs deleted from its website the expression Japan “shares common basic values” with the ROK in bilateral relations.
The two countries no longer share the “basic values” of “rule of law” and “freedom of speech and the press” probably because there have been doubts in light of the prosecution of and travel ban on Sankei’s former bureau chief. This is not only true for Japan.
The international organization of journalists “Reporters Without Borders,” the international group of media organizations “International Press Institute,” and other groups have also issued protest statements on Kato’s case. The U.S. newspapers The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post and other media outlets have also published articles criticizing the actions taken by the ROK authorities.
The Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club made up of members of the foreign media in Seoul has just sent a letter to President Park demanding the lifting of the travel ban.
The case against Kato can also be dropped through a decision by the prosecutors, in the same manner as the lifting of the travel ban. The prosecutors’ office is an administrative body and President Park is the top leader of the administration. As such, and as the “victim” who is yet to reveal how she feels about the offense or whether she wants to press for punishment, she is in a position to exercise her influence to have the charges dropped.
The ROK should return to the group of countries truly sharing the basic values of freedom and democracy by dropping the charges against Kato.