A Petition to Support Two South Korean Journalists, Kim Oujoon and Choo Chinwoo
Dear Supporters of Democracy,
This petition is being written to raise awareness on the severely compromised freedom of speech in South Korea.
Two well-known South Korean journalists, Mr. Kim Oujoon and Mr. Choo Chinwoo, have been indicted on defamation charges against Mr. Park Jiman, the president’s brother, and have just undergone a trial at a high court in Seoul four weeks ago. Mr. Park was implicated in relation to a murder case from 2011. In 2011, a year prior to the last presidential election, there was a criminal case where two of the close relatives of current South Korean president Park Geunhye had been killed. One of the two dead men had testified in court to support a suspicion that Mr. Park Jiman had hired a hit man to kill his brother-in-law because of a conflict over control of the family-run foundation. He was murdered a few days before he would reappear as a witness in court requested by a lawyer for Mr. Park’s brother-in-law. The investigation was done in a rushed manner and concluded that he had been murdered by his own cousin who then took his own life immediately after. Even though there were unanswered questions, suspicions, and evidence that could point in a different direction the investigation was rushed to finish.
After having spent several years looking into the Park’s family feud over the foundation Mr. Choo wrote an article about this mysterious murder case in 2012. His article raised suspicions on certain issues: why had the cousin climbed up a mountain at an incredibly fast speed after having murdered the victim just to hang himself there, why had he taken his daily medicine to improve his health just 30 minutes before his suicide, why powerful prescriptive sleeping pills had been found in his stomach afterwards, why did he have a note in his pocket with only one sentence, “NEVER to bury me, only cremation” in handwriting that was not proven to be his, and with no mention of any motive for a murder or any message to his family. He was in fact immediately cremated, so that any further forensic study in the future would not be possible even if necessary.
Mr. Choo, an investigative journalist, talked about these facts in a podcast talk show hosted by Mr. Kim Oujoon before the presidential election in 2012. This podcast, called “Nanun KKonsuda” or “I am a Crook”, was one of the world’s most downloaded political podcasts in Apple iTunes history with every episode airing weekly to over 10 million downloads. It became a sensational hit in South Korea and is considered a landmark of an experimental talk show method in South Korean political history. Mr. Kim and Mr Choo spoke of this murder case without saying it was associated with Mr. Park. They simply said that before the man showed up to court, to possibly testify against Mr. Park, he had been murdered. However, Mr. Park filed a defamation suit against these two right after the podcast aired.
In 2013 Mr. Kim and Mr. Choo were tried in a trial by jury which involved ordinary citizens as jurors and the two men were acquitted on all charges. However, the prosecutors appealed to a higher court and asked again for three years in prison for Mr. Choo and two years in prison for Mr. Kim, the same demands as the first trial. A judgment by the judge is scheduled to be delivered on January 16, 2015.
Many citizens in South Korea are concerned that the South Korean judicial system may not be completely free from influence from the current two year old conservative and authoritarian administration while dealing with this case. Recently, the administration has gone so far as dissolving a progressive opposition party, the first time ever in South Korean constitutional history. Judges may find it difficult to be fair and unbiased without at least fearing any political consequences in this situation where these two journalists, who are fiercely critical of the government, have been sued by the president’s own brother. In his closing remarks of the first trial Mr. Kim addressed to the jurors, “We were fearful when we talked about this case. However, there is only one reason why Choo Chinwoo chose to write this article despite the numerous threats against him. It is because he is a journalist. I chose to air this interview for the same reason. That is what journalism exists for. Please help us so that we can have a second and a third Choo Chinwoo.”
The jurors responded not guilty on all charges. Mr. Kim Oujoon and Mr. Choo Chinwoo are still working on this murder case while they await judgment. Please support these two South Korean journalists in this fight, not only for the freedom of speech or the right to stand up to those in power but above all else to fight for the pursuit of truth itself!