Academic convicted of defaming wartime sex slaves in Korea

Prof Park Yu-ha said not all ‘comfort women’ were forced into brothels

Park Yu-ha, a professor at Sejong University, speaks to reporters outside  Seoul High Court today  after being  found  guilty of defaming former “comfort women”. Photograph: Kyodo News via Getty Images

Park Yu-ha, a professor at Sejong University, speaks to reporters outside Seoul High Court today after being found guilty of defaming former “comfort women”. Photograph: Kyodo News via Getty Images

 

A court in Seoul has convicted a history professor on charges of defaming victims of wartime sex slavery, known as “comfort women”, by saying not all the women were dragged from their homes by Japanese troops.

The Seoul high court fined Sejong University professor Park Yu-ha 10 million won (€7,600) for defaming the wartime sex slaves in her book Comfort Women of the Empire, the Yonhap news agency reported.

Ms Park’s book challenged the consensus view by saying not all women were forcibly removed from their families and forced into sex slavery, but said some volunteered in the belief that they would get factory jobs.

Critics of the book, including some victims, claimed the book tainted the reputation of the women by implying that some were willing participants and had “comrade-like” relations with Japanese troops.

The decision overturned an earlier acquittal. Prosecutors had sought a three-year jail term.

Colonial rule

Historians believe that 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, but also women from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and other Asian countries, were coerced into sex slavery in front-line Japanese brothels during the second World War. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.

The issue has dogged relations between South Korea and Japan, as Tokyo disputes the figure of 200,000, which was also included in a document by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1996.

In 2015, Seoul and Tokyo signed a landmark deal in which the Japanese government expressed its “apologies and remorse” and gave 1 billion yen (€7.5 million) towards a fund to help victims.

“Professor Park used definitive expressions, and readers could have taken it as a fact that most comfort women voluntarily became comfort women and engaged in prostitution in exchange for financial rewards,” the court said.

“As a person who has studied the comfort women issue for a long time, Professor Park was aware that these descriptions lower the social reputation of the victims,” it said. “Professor Park also caused huge psychological pain with the distortion of facts.”

Academic freedom

The lower court had found her not guilty because academic freedom is a basic right guaranteed by South Korea’s constitution. Ms Park said that she would appeal the decision in the supreme court.

“This is a wrong decision based solely on prejudices, and I will, of course, appeal,” she said. “The comfort women issue is a matter still under study.”