SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean prosecutors indicted a Japanese journalist on Wednesday for defamation of President Park Geun-hye over an article he wrote about her personal life and whereabouts on the day of a deadly ferry disaster in April.
The Seoul Central District Prosecution said it had indicted the former Seoul bureau chief for Japan’s Sankei Shimbun, Tatsuya Kato, after concluding a report he wrote about Park on Aug. 3 was based on “false information,” the prosecutors’ office said in a statement.
Kato has not been arrested but remains barred from leaving South Korea, where he has faced questioning by South Korean prosecutors.
The Sankei Shimbun reported on its website on Wednesday that Kato had been indicted and said he had told prosecutors “he believed writing about where Park was and how she responded to the ferry sinking had a bearing on the public good.”
The Aug. 3 report on the Sankei website related to Park’s whereabouts on April 16, when a ferry carrying 476 people capsized and sank. More than 300 people were declared dead or missing in the country’s worst maritime disaster in 44 years.
Sankei said Kato now had a different role with the company. Kato did not answer calls to his mobile phone.
“The indictment without arrest is extremely regrettable and our government is concerned about the situation from the viewpoint of freedom of the press as well as bilateral relations,” said an official with the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
“After confirming the facts, we will take appropriate action,” he said, declining to be identified.
Relations between South Korea and Japan have cooled over the past two years, largely over the issue of Korean “comfort women”, as those forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War Two are known.
South Korea maintains that Japan has not sufficiently atoned for the women’s suffering and has protested against Tokyo’s review of a landmark 1993 apology, which acknowledged the involvement of Japanese authorities in coercing the women.
Reporting by Ju-min Park and Tony Munroe in Seoul and Elaine Lies in Tokyo; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Neil Fullick