Comfort Women, a lurking source of tension in East Asia, delves deeper into an issue of oppressor and oppressed into a darker side of perceived South Korean democracy. Dr. Park Yuha ruffled feathers with her groundbreaking work “Comfort Women of the Empire.” For the first time, a female Korean historian attempted to uncover the nuance behind the issue of World War II comfort women and was met with harsh reprisal. A guilty verdict handed down by South Korean high courts in 2017 suggested that freedom of speech and freedom of Academia in South Korea is tainted.
Park’s version of events contends that there is a more nuanced version of the history of comfort women. Up until that point, the understanding of the comfort women issue in Korea was perpetuated by a black and white narrative of Korean victimhood. Park discovered that the Korean understanding was incorrect, and, their lives were a lot more nuanced than what was generally believed.
After publishing her works, many activist groups who subscribe to the traditional Korean convention subsequently sued the author for defamation. On November 18th 2015, Dr. Park Yuha was indicted by a South Korean state prosecutor. In protest to the breach of academic freedom and freedom of speech, a petition signed by more than 70 internationally renowned spokespeople gained widespread traction.
After much political scandal in South Korea that same year, including the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the Seoul district court announced a not guilty verdict, based on a decision that the statements referred to the prosecution could not be considered as defamation. There were no grounds to consider that Park intentionally based her works intending defamation, the narrative led itself to this conclusion organically.
Although she was found not guilty, the court still stated that Park gave “false statements” in her book, as her narrative does not align with the official one being peddled by South Korea. This leaves dangerous implications for historians and democracy, as the search for truth in this light is shrouded by the false pretenses of democracy.