South Korean academic convicted of defaming ‘comfort women’
A South Korean professor who challenged the consensus view of Japan’s wartime sex slaves was convicted of defaming the victims on Friday, after a Seoul appeal court overturned an earlier acquittal.
Park Yu-ha, of Sejong University in the South Korean capital, was found guilty of defamation for questioning the popular narrative that all “comfort women” were dragged from their homes by Japanese soldiers during the second world war.
In her 2013 book The Comfort Women of the Empire , she suggested the reality was more complex, with some women volunteering – though without necessarily knowing what their eventual fate would be. Many were told that they would get factory jobs.
The book also suggested some women forged emotional bonds with the soldiers they served, sparking an angry response from surviving victims.
The Seoul High Court on Friday overturned a verdict by a lower court in January, which acquitted Park on the premise that academic freedom was a basic right and her opinions were not a criminal issue.
“Park used definitive expressions in some parts of her book which could make readers think that … the victims voluntarily joined military brothels with an intention to sell sex,” the appeal court said.
“She inflicted (significant) mental stress on the victims by displaying distorted claims about those forced into sex slavery,” it said.
Mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women from Korea – a Japanese colony at the time – China and other parts of Asia, were forced to become sex slaves for Tokyo’s troops.
The issue remains highly sensitive in both South Korea and China, with Seoul and Tokyo engaged in a diplomatic row over memorial statues to the women installed in front of Japanese missions in the South.
The court fined Park 10 million won (US$8,848) – a lighter punishment than the three-year jail term sought by prosecutors.