Self-proposed “Yoon Mee-hyang protection law” made former comfort woman, Lee Yong-soo, angry
The ruling party of South Korea proposed a bill to strongly prohibit defamation against not only former comfort women and their bereaved families but also related organizations, which has become controversial. On August 13, ten ruling party lawmakers including In Jae-geun of the Democratic Party proposed an amendment of the “Act on Livelihood Stability and Memorial Services, etc. for Comfort Women Victims for the Japanese Imperial Army.” Independent lawmaker Yoon Mee-hyang, who is the former head of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Slavery by Japan and on trial after being indicted on charges of misappropriation of funds, also cosponsored the bill. Yoon has “self-proposed” the bill to block criticism against her and the Korean Council’s alleged wrongdoings.
The most controversial part of the proposed amendment is a clause saying, “No defamation of former comfort women, bereaved families, or related organizations shall be permitted by revealing facts or by spreading false information” (Article 16). Although there is no clause for criminal penalties, the inclusion of “revealing facts” as a prohibited act leaves room for interpretation that even telling the truth about comfort women-related organizations can be an illegal act. Unlike the justification to punish defamation against former comfort women, it is no surprise that the clause has been criticized as the legislation that is really intended to protect Yoon and the Korean Council.
Yoon was indicted on eight charges including fraud, embezzlement, breach of trust, violation of the Act on Donations, and violation of the Subsidy Management Act, while she was serving as the head of the Korean Council. The criminal charges against Yoon came to light only after Lee Yong-soo, a former comfort woman, revealed, “She has been exploiting former comfort women for 30 years.” However, if the amendment is applied, it could even happen a ridiculous case where Yoon Mee-hyang, the alleged criminal, would be protected, while Lee Yong-soo, the victim, would be punished. Lee Yong-soo is furious, saying, “Are they saying that I would be violating the law by telling the truth about the Korean Council? There are also concerns about excessive legislation. Although defamation can be punishable under the current Penal Code, additional legislation has made a comprehensive provision that includes even organizations in the list of prohibited subjects.
This bizarre bill that has stirred public anger must be scrapped immediately. It is similar to the “May 18 History Distortion Punishment Act” forcefully adopted by the Democratic Party last December which restricts freedom of expression. Also, the Democratic Party is ready to push through the passage of the “Speech Arbitration Law” at the plenary session today. Last week, the Party forced through amendments to the Private School Law and the Carbon-Neutral Basic Law at a standing committee meeting under its jurisdiction. There would be no such act of “legislative outrage,” unless the Democratic Party makes a fool of the people.
Segye Ilbo dated on August 25, 2021