Prosecutors indicted a South Korean university professor on defamation charges, alleging that she falsely described some former “comfort women” as prostitutes who acted without coercion to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during World War II. On November 18, prosecutors charged without detention Park Yu-ha for statements made in her book “Comfort Women of the Empire”. Park is a professor at Sejong University.
The Asahi Shimbun wrote,
In the book, Park wrote that she sees the relationship between the “empire” (Japan) and the “colony” (Korean Peninsula) as the backdrop for the Korean comfort women issue.
She explained that as the war progressed, Korean women who were poor and lacked protection of their rights were sent to battlefronts as comfort women for Japanese troops.
In the book, Park raised the issue of whether the women were “sex slaves” or “prostitutes.”
Based on testimonies of former comfort women and other people, Park said the actual conditions and circumstances surrounding the women were diverse.
“It is extremely regrettable that my ideas were not accepted,” Park said on Nov. 19. “But the indictment has become an opportunity for my assertions to be known widely.”
The prosecutors office contends that the Korean comfort women were forced by the Japanese government and Japan’s military forces into sexual slavery. The prosecutors office cited the Kono Statement issued in 1993 by then Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono and the United Nations report promulgated in 1997.
“Prosecutors took issue with what they described as ‘false facts’ in Park’s book. One is her description saying comfort women were within the framework of ‘prostitution’ and comforted Japanese soldiers with ‘patriotism.’ The other is a passage saying that, officially, the comfort women were not forcibly taken away by Japanese forces, at least on the Korean Peninsula.”
Park published “Comfort Women of the Empire” in summer 2013. Former comfort women filed a criminal defamation complaint against Park in June 2014 and won an injunction against publication of the book in February 2015. The Seoul Eastern District Court iruled that the publication of the book would not be allowed unless some parts were deleted.
In a 2015 interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Park said,
“she wrote the book in an attempt to re-portray them in light of the variety of testimonies provided by former comfort women. She said their words opened her eyes to the sheer diversity of the circumstances and experiences of Korean comfort women, and to the bigger picture of ‘an empire and its colony.’
“Park believes that Japan did not recruit comfort women in Korea, which was part of Japan from Tokyo’s perspective, in quite the same way that it did on the front lines and in occupied areas, such as in the Philippines. In those areas, records show that Japanese soldiers were directly involved in the forcible and violent taking away of comfort women. ‘Many of the Korean comfort women were apparently recruited while being cheated by agents of prostitution, some of whom were Koreans, or being sold by their parents,’ Park said. ‘While some have testified they were forcibly taken away by military personnel, I suppose that such cases, if there were any, were exceptional.’
But Park emphasized that Japan is not exempt from its responsibility for the comfort women, who were taken to ‘comfort stations’ against their will and experienced pain. That is because she sees the relationship of an empire and a colony in the backdrop of the Korean comfort women issue.
The Japan Times in a commentary, Rightists distort author Park Yu-ha’s views on ‘comfort women’, published the following:
Park Yu-ha, an academic at Sejong University in Seoul, is the darling of the Japanese right because of her alleged stance on the “comfort women” system. But their cherry-picking of her writings distorts her views and twists them into support for the revisionists’ vindicating and exonerating narrative. Park presents a nuanced analysis of the comfort women system, one that challenges the prevailing consensus in South Korea, but she is also quite critical of the role Japan played.
I highly recommend reading the Japan Times’ commentary.
The human tragedy that is the comfort women’s story, as heinous as whatever the truth might be, is not the real and present danger facing Korea today. The real danger wrapped in this criminal charge is the criminal prosecution of scholarship (if not historical facts and truth itself). The market place of ideas winnows poor scholarship, fallacious reasoning, or “false facts” along with their authors without the need of criminal prosecution.
The real story here is the Korean government’s prosecution of speech, regardless of truth value.
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