The following text is a document containing the statement against the indictment of Dr. Park Yuha by the South Korean high court system. The compelling petition gathered over 70 signatures.
26th November, 2015
We hereby express our great consternation and concern over the indictment by the Eastern Prosecution Office in Seoul of Professor Park Yu-ha, author of Comfort Women of the Empire, for “defamation”. We believe that this book, published also in Japan in November last year, made a remarkable attempt to dismiss one-sided views of the “Comfort Women Issue”, and to search for possibilities of a genuine solution by comprehending the multi-faceted aspects of this complicated issue.
The indictment by the said Prosecution Office predicates that the Korean version of this book includes “false facts”, and lists numerous examples. But we think that this judgment does not understand the author’s intention properly, and is based on presumptions and misunderstandings. Above all, we feel that this book does not harm the honor of the former comfort women: on the contrary, this book is successful in delicately conveying the deep sorrow of these women to Korean and Japanese readers.
Any solution to the “Comfort Women Issue” must be found only through cooperation of the two nations of Japan and Korea that amounts to a mutual understanding regarding the responsibility of the Japanese Empire by reflecting upon the past histories. In this regard, Professor Park Yu-ha has significantly broadened the past arguments by focusing not only on the “disregard of women by imperialism” but also on the “discrimination against them under the colonial rule”.
It is true that the book’s assertion of fraternity of the “Comfort Women” with Japanese soldiers in battlefield and its indication of involvement of the local agents (including Korean ones) over the recruitment of women are debatable both in Korea and Japan. However, this book astutely points out the fundamental responsibility of Japanese Empire in creating these situations through its colonial rule, and it does not support certain arguments in Japan that negate the “Comfort Women Issue” altogether. This book also made an important contribution to the rise of general interest and debate in this issue.
We also entertain grave doubt over the prosecution’s reliance on “Kono Statement” as a source to prove Professor Park’s “errors”, because this book tries a rigorous and appreciative reading of Kono Statement and appeals for solutions based on this very statement.
The Japanese version of this book received a special prize of “Asia-Pacific Award” and “Waseda Journalism Principal Award in Memory of Taizan Ishibashi” this autumn, as it was highly evaluated as a milestone for deepening arguments over the “Comfort Women Issue”.
We have been concerned for some time with this book being the subject of a civil court case for defamation, but we are now further shocked by the indictment in which public authority in the form of the procurator’s office has moved to confine academic freedom and freedom of speech based on a particular view of history. What to certify as facts and how to interpret history are issues that should be left up to academic freedom. Apart from such a work that discriminates a particular individual or incites violence, matters related to speech should be countered through speech, and according to the basic principle of modern democracy, public authority should never encroach into that arena. We firmly believe that only invigorated academism would offer precious opportunities for the formation of healthy public opinion and nourish society at large.
South Korea is one of the rare countries where the people have attained and secured democratization after many years of the autocratic rule during which time academic scholarship and public speech as well as political movements were severely suppressed. We hold deep respect for such strength enhanced in the Korean society. However, it is our great concern that the “freedom of speech and press” and the “academic and artistic freedom” stipulated in the Korean Constitution are now in crisis. We are also worried that this indictment would block any attempt toward solving the “Comfort Women Issue” by unnecessarily provoking popular sentiment of the two nations, when Korea and Japan are on the brink of solving the “Comfort Women Issue” which is now well overdue. We strongly hope for a rise of healthy public opinion in the broad section of Korean society against this indictment. As Japan’s own democracy is in dire jeopardy at the moment, we sincerely wish that civil societies of Korea and Japan cooperate with each other to perpetuate atmosphere of mutual esteem for the respective democracy based on the principle of free speech.
We therefore earnestly call for a ruling by the court that would not embarrass the common sense and conscience of democracy, and for a revitalized debate regarding this issue within the discursive space of the two countries.
Please find the full list of signatories here.