|Park Yu-ha, a professor at Sejong University and the author of "Comfort Women of the Empire," answers questions from reporters in front of the Seoul High Court in eastern Seoul after the court ruled against her in this Oct. 27 file photo. / Korea Times file|
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Korean, American and Japanese academics and artists voiced concern about a court's ruling that Park Yu-ha, the author of "Comfort Women of the Empire," defamed victims of wartime sexual slavery.
They claimed the Seoul High Court's ruling has put freedom of expression in danger.
In the book released in 2013, Park, also a professor at Sejong University in Seoul, claimed some Korean women who were taken to comfort stations overseas during World War II were volunteers, not victims who were forced to provide sexual services for Japanese soldiers against their will.
In October, the court ruled against Park and said her book defamed wartime sex slaves. It said Park's views of them were not consistent with historical facts upheld by the Korean government and the international community that comfort women were the victims of the Japanese military's systematic sex slavery and thus could mislead its readers. The higher court reversed a lower court ruling _ which had found her not guilty _ and fined Park 10 million won.
The court ruling, meanwhile, ignited academics and artists. Ninety-eight writers, artists and academics, including linguist Noam Chomsky, took collective action to help Park in her legal fight. They held a news conference at the Press Center in downtown Seoul, Dec. 7.
They claimed academics such as Park can present their own opinions about certain historical or political events, even if they are different from widely accepted existing views. In a free democracy, they said different opinions must be respected and protected because people are given freedom of expression. "Scholars are not supposed to be treated as criminals just because they present different views," they said.
"Comfort Women of the Empire" has been the center of a controversy since it was first released in 2013, two years after she worked on the book in Japan during a sabbatical.
In the book, Park challenged several established points about Japan's wartime sex slavery. Park denied the Japanese military's involvement in the recruitment of Korean girls and said human traffickers were responsible for war rape.
During World War II, as many as 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and the Netherlands were taken to comfort stations which were set up all across the Asia-Pacific region. About 80 percent of them were believed to be Koreans. Several comfort women survivors testified that they were duped by recruiters and believed they would work as manufacturing workers.
Park said prostitution was in place in Japan before World War II and women involved in the industry there were called comfort women. Those women were from poor families and they were there to earn money to support their families by providing sexual services for the Japanese military.
Park went on to say the opening of comfort stations across the Asia-Pacific region starting in 1932 was the result of the systematic expansion of such facilities ahead of the war, not as something that suddenly came up as an organized effort by the Japanese government as some Korean scholars and activists believed.
She also defended her use of prostitution for what those Korean comfort women did during the war. She said what they had gone through was "prostitution based on rape," or "prostitution almost identical to rape." As her description irritated Koreans, Park said she used such expressions to indicate what those Korean women underwent was the result of the systematic rape and her focus was put on rape, rather than prostitution.
Park said criticism against her was too harsh and she believed to some degree critics' misunderstanding of her intentions caused her to face such undeserved approbation. She said her initial intention was to raise the issue in order to hold Japan accountable for wartime rape accordingly. "The issue has long been treated as a wartime crime, which I think is incorrect," she said. Park said the nature of Korean comfort women was different from that of Chinese or Dutch wartime sex slaves.
Korea was a colonial state of Japan and thus Koreans at that time were considered Japanese citizens, whereas Chinese and Dutch women were considered foreigners, according to the author.
In June 2014, about a year after the publication of her book, 11 surviving "comfort women" filed a lawsuit against Park for defaming them. The court sided with the victims and ordered Park to redact content in 34 sections that it ruled defamed those victims.
In November 2011, the prosecution indicted the author without detention for defamation in a separate lawsuit. It drew the ire of some artists, historians and filmmakers at that time. One hundred ninety people signed a petition denouncing the prosecution's indictment of Park.