“Yoon Mee-hyang/the Korean Council Protection Act” submitted by Yoon Mee-hyang
“Yoon Mee-hyang/the Korean Council Protection Act” submitted by Yoon Mee-hyang – to be punished if criticizing misappropriation of funds by the Korean Council– Nine lawmakers of the Democratic Party jointly proposed
An independent lawmaker Yoon Mee-hyang and the Democratic Party of Korea’s lawmakers proposed a bill that would thoroughly prohibit defamation against not only former comfort women and their bereaved families but also their related organizations. Lawmaker Yoon, who served as the head of a comfort women-related organization, “the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (the Korean Council)” is currently on trial for misappropriating funds for comfort women. The political world criticized, “We will end up going to jail just for speaking out on the crime of Yoon Mee-hyang and the Korean Council.”
Ten ruling party lawmakers including Mr. In Jae-geun proposed an amendment of the “Act on Livelihood Stability and Memorial Services, etc. for Sexual Slavery Victims for the Japanese Imperial Army” on August 13. This prescribes that those who spread false information concerning comfort women through newspapers, broadcasters, publications, or the Internet shall be punished by imprisonment up to five years or a fine of up to 50 million won (Article 17).
Also, the content has been included, which prohibits “defamation by revealing fact” against comfort women-related organizations as well as former comfort women and their bereaved families (Article 16). If the amendment is approved, the criticism against the Korean Council that has suspicion of misappropriating funds could end up being suppressed. Lawmaker In-jae-geun, who proposed the bill, stated as a reason for a proposal, “It is difficult to correct the facts under the current law such as Information and Communication Network Law, and we need to prohibit the act of spreading false information more strongly.”
It has been pointed out that this is similar to the “May 18 Historical Distortion Punishment Act” passed by the Democratic Party earlier in terms of restricting freedom of expression. In May 2021, lawmakers including Kim Yong-min from the Democratic Party proposed the “Historical Distortion Punishment Act” that would prohibit praise and inspiration of Japanese imperialism. Choi Jin-seo, a professor of philosophy at Sogang University, said, “The first step of a dictatorship begins with contracting freedom of expression. History should not have interfered with mandatory law.”
The ruling party has started a series of legislation to restrict freedom of expression in the name of punishing historical distortions. They include criminal penalties against praising and inspiring the May 18 Gwangju Uprising and Japanese imperialism and defaming Japanese military comfort women by false information. Both dissemination of clear false information and defamation is punishable under existing law. Nevertheless, the fact that the Democratic Party’s pushing through enacting multiple “laws to punish historical distortions” has been criticized even by the history community because of “concerning the judicialization phenomena of history.”
The Democratic Party has been criticized for steamrollering the “May 18 Historical Distortion Punishment Act,” because it restricts freedom of expression by law. Immediately after the landslide victory in last year’s general election, then Leader of the Democratic Party, Lee Hae-chan said, “There are shameless people who spread fake news about the contributors for the “May 18 Democratization Movement hiding behind the shadow of freedom of expression. In fact, in December 2020, the Democratic Party steamrollered a bill that anyone spreading false information about the Gwangju Uprising would be punished by imprisonment up to five years or a fine of up to 50 million won. In May 2021, 12 members of the Democratic Party jointly proposed a bill to “prevent historical distortions.” The bill is to severely punish anyone who praises crimes that happened under Japanese imperial rule with imprisonment up to 10 years or a fine of up to 200 million won. It also prohibits the use of military flags and sculptures, such as the rising sun flag, which symbolizes Japanese imperialism.
Against legislation by the Democratic Party which restricts history and thought, a history-related organization criticized, “We call for the withdrawal of the bill.” In June 2021, in a joint statement, 21 researcher groups and academic society including the Korean History Study Group denounced, “Historical issues have become excessive judicialization by falling into the trap of ‘distortion’ in a particular view of history and clarifying punishment clauses.” “There is a stipulation similar to a poison pill of the National Security Law which repressed academia and thought during the anti-communist dictatorship era.” These groups campaigned for anti-national textbooks in 2015 under the Park Geun-hye administration.
On July 19, the New York Times analyzed in the article titled “`Historical Distortions` Test South Korea’s Commitment to Free Speech” President Moon is stepping into “political land minefield” by criminalizing the things which he prescribes as so-called “historical distortions.”
Despite such concerns from inside and outside of South Korea, independent lawmaker Yoon Mee-hyang and nine Democrats dared to propose a bill this time to prohibit defamation against former comfort women, their bereaved families, and its related organizations. In particular, the following clause of the bill has become controversial: “You shall not defame former comfort women, their bereaved families or comfort women’s related organizations by revealing facts or spreading false information.” This could result in the adverse effect of forcing silence on the illegality of the Korean Council and Yoon Mee-hyang.
Lawmaker Yoon who was accused of eight crimes including fraud, business embezzlement, malpractice, violation of the donation law, and violation of the law related to subsidy management, said “I’ve been living without shame,” and denied the related suspicion across the board. Such criminal charges by lawmaker Yoon were made known to the world through revealing by a former comfort woman, Lee Yong-soo, saying, “For 30 years, she has been exploiting former comfort women all the time.”
A constitutional scholar Chang Young-soo, Professor of Korea University School of Law said, “This is no different from the ‘Northeast Project’ in China in that history is decided by the nation.” “It is not only unconstitutional but also harmful to the very foundation of democracy because of forcing artificial values.” Lim Ji-hyun, a professor in the Department of History at Sogang University criticized, “The world will come to a point where judges will make a decision on history.” “Forcing history by law is a far-right nationalist idea.”
Chosun Ilbo dated on August 24, 2021