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Tokyo criticizes S. Korea for jailed journalist

October 20, 2015

South Korean prosecutors have said they are seeking a prison term for a Japanese journalist accused of defamation. Japanese authorities have critized the decision.

Tatsuya Kato
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Shin Jun-hee/Yonhap

Tokyo voiced criticism on Tuesday after South Korean prosecutors argued for an 18-month prison sentence for a jailed Japanese journalist accused of defamation. The sentencing is scheduled for November 26.

The case centers around Tatsuya Kato, former Seoul bureau chief for Japanese newspaper "Sankei Shimbun," who drew on rumors for an article suggesting South Korean President Park Geun-hye had been with her lover during the Sewol ferry disaster that killed 300 people in April 2014. Park's administration was heavily criticized for her leadership during the incident.

Prosecutors said the newspaper had not made any attempt to verify its sources and had published the article with the intention of defaming the president.

Kato's lawyer argued the story was published in the interest of informing the public.

Japanese criticism

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference Tuesday that the proposed sentence was "extremely regrettable" and that it caused concern "from the viewpoint of freedom of press, freedom of expression and bilateral ties between Japan and South Korea."

The "Sankei Shimbun" newspaper, meanwhile, expressed "astonishment and anger" over the announcement, the AFP news agency reported.

Reporters Without Borders, the France-based media watchdog group, has already spoken out against the possibility of Kato going to prison.

On its website, the organization urged South Korea "to refrain from imposing a jail sentence," saying the punishment reflects "a desire to impose tighter controls on the way the media portray President Park."

Accusations of anti-Korean sentiment

"Sankei Shimbun," a center-right publication, has drawn the ire of South Korea in the past. The newspaper is notorious for its perceived anti-Korea bias and has campaigned to reverse the Japanese apology regarding the forced prostitution of Korean women during World War II.

The case also comes amid a perceived warming of relations between Tokyo and Seoul. The two governments, along with Beijing, are expected to participate in a trilateral meeting in November.

Park, who has been critical of Japan's wartime record, has said she is open to talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

blc/cmk (AP, AFP)