It is said that slander kills three people: the one who is slandered, another who slanders, and the one who listens to the slander. Unsubstantiated rumors and slanders actually killed the person who was slandered. The late Choi Jin-shil, the nation’s top actress, committed suicide after suffering from the groundless rumors that she had lent 2.5 billion Korean won on a private loan to the late Ahn Jae-hwan. Some critics said that netizens who spread this rumor should feel a sense of responsibility for her death. However, the person who spread the rumor for the first time was not caught. Like this, a rumor someone spreads carelessly can take away someone else’s life; a thoughtless word can be harmful to others. Despite that, recently, a man spread a rumor about children for his own benefit, and he is being denounced by many intellects. They point out that children’s rights should be protected even more.
In September, the court put the brakes on a heresy researcher’s thoughtless slander of a religion. He pirated a children’s video of the religion and used it at his heresy seminars. On the 25th, the Criminal Division 1 of the Seoul Northern District Court (head judge Han Chang-ho) sentenced Tark—H religious magazine publisher, the Head of the Research Center of International Problematic Religion, and an expert member of CCK Heresy Countermeasure Committee—to a fine of 500,000 Korean won for contempt in the appellate trial.
At this, it is pointed out that the court imposed a penalty that was too light on him who violated children’s portrait rights and defamed them by making up rumors as if they belonged to a problematic religious group. The court acknowledged contempt but not defamation, saying, “The defendant’s verbal expressions such as ‘fake,’ ‘cult,’ and ‘children in North Korea,’ were to belittle, despise, and ridicule the children, and so it conforms to contempt. We annul the original verdict of being not guilty, and sentence the defendant to a fine of 500,000 Korean won.” And the court judged that the defendant went too far in criticizing the religion and insulted the victims unnecessarily by describing them as if they blindly believed in a cult and by showing a video that allows viewers to recognize the victims clearly, even though there was no reason for revealing the victims’ identities.
According to the victims, Tark pirated the children’s choir video of the denomination, which is different from his, without permission for two years since 2006, and used them for his heresy seminars held at a broadcasting company, at universities, and other churches. He showed the video on a Christian broadcasting station without blurring out the children’s faces, and insulted their characters with verbal expressions such as “cult” and “heretics.” He even described them as “terrible,” likening them to children in North Korea, saying, “The children at the ages of 4 to 5 are brainwashed by their parents who’ve fallen into heresy.”
What matters is that the children victims are suffering from emotional distress such as depression and social phobia; they are worried that they may become outcasts because of Tark’s lecture video metastasizing on the internet. Nevertheless, what is more shocking is the fact that Tark continued to do this even during the pendency of action, causing the victims to suffer even more.
Unfair decision—only guilty of contempt despite victims’ great damage to sense of honor
It’s been about a year since the children victims’ parents, who could no longer watch their children suffering, filed charges against Tark. The victims said that they were unable to have a normal life because of Tark’s action. The victims had expected that they would recover their damaged honor through this judgment, but rather they were wounded more deeply.
The pressing matter of this judgment was the interpretation of the law about defamation. The court of the first trial judged that Tark was not guilty because he promoted public interest as the H religious magazine publisher though he committed defamation. But the high court concluded, “There is doubt if the defendant defamed the victims in pointing out facts about them. According to a lecture by the defendant, he did not belittle social appreciation of the victims at all. In conclusion, the first trial that judged him not-guilty of defamation is legal.” As the court of appeals sentenced Tark to a fine of 500,000 Korean won only for contempt, the victims complained of the injustice, saying, “The penalty is too light, compared with the damage we’ve received.”
The reason that the victims regard the ruling as unfair though the defendant was handed down a fine of 500,000 Korean won for contempt is because the justice department still assumed a lukewarm attitude toward defamation just like the ruling of the first trial. Moon (41), the mother of one of the children victims said, “I cannot agree with the decision of the court that, ‘He did not belittle social appreciation of the victims at all.’ The weak and small children are more susceptible to damage than adults by insulting word(s), and they are not free from criticism at school or by their friends. So, the ruling that although the defendant committed contempt, he did not belittle social appreciation of the victims at all doesn’t make sense.”
Children’s rights experts also said, “The defendant should take more responsibility for defamation as well as for contempt.” The experts emphasized, “What is most important in judging whether it is defamation or not is the ‘sense of honor’ of the person who thinks that he is damaged by the revelation of his personal information. Our society tends to ignore the honor of children, but the honor of children is no less important than that of adults; they are equal. As for harming children’s rights with insulting remarks and acts, the law needs to be applied more strictly.”
Lawyer Kang Ji-won (Ex-chairman of the Korean Internet Safety Commission) said in reference to defamation, “The words that do not hurt normal people can hurt the disabled. A joke that men do not think twice about may damage the sense of honor of women. The degree of defamation differs, depending on the type and position of a person.” A medical specialist who asked for anonymity said in concern, “If the defendant had taken account of the children’s psychological wounds, he would not have done something so irrational. The children victims must be suffering from mental distress and distrust in adults.”
Moon (41), the mother of a child victim said, “The first trial acknowledged that Tark’s action is defamation but denied illegality, giving the reason that Tark is a publisher of a religious magazine who works for the public. Unexpectedly, the appellate trial gave an embarrassing ruling on defamation, over whether or not Tark’s statement revealed personal information and it degraded the victim’s social value. That’s so disappointing.”
At first, the child victims’ parents accused Tark of defamation, regarding his actions as violation of portrait rights and infringement upon children’s rights. Protesting against the summary order of paying a fine of 1.5 million Korean won, Tark applied for a formal trial and was found not guilty at the first trial. For five months since then, the victims’ parents made efforts to recover their children’s honor by holding a picket sign which says, “We expect a ruling of conscience on the basis of children’s rights.” Since the first trial declared Tark, who was accused of defamation, not guilty, the prosecution added contempt as a preliminary charge.
The UN International Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 16 says, “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.” And Article 2 says, “States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.” South Korea too joined the International Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. Although the government and domestic related groups are actively working to carry out the convention, comprehensive activities for children’s rights are still unsatisfactory.
Victim Children’s Appeal, “Please Let Us Get Back Our Honor”
Right after the judgment, there was an argument between the child victims and the defendant Tark in front of the court. “Mr. Tark, apologize to us,” said a girl (13), one of the victims, in a school uniform. She appealed to him with tears, walking after him. Despite that, Tark did not even look at her and got in his car and drove off. The girl left behind, mortified, kept shedding tears in her mortification. The girl, who was mentally damaged because Tark spread the video, was unable to manage a normal school life as well as her daily life.
The girl burst into tears, saying, “Showing the video where my face was clearly shown to the public, He defamed my honor and human rights. He said, ‘It’s so terrible. She’s just like a child in North Korea.’ I asked him for an apology, but he didn’t even look at me and went away without an answer. I didn’t want to go to school. I felt like I wanted to die. I’m devastated at the fact that he did not even say a single word of apology and looked away.”
“He must be a father who has a child. Then, how could he say that I was terrible,” the girl said with her head lowered. And she added in pain, “People say that children are the treasures of a country. Then why doesn’t the court grant a fair decision. It’s so agonizing.”
Another child victim (15) said, “He showed my face in the video and made me look abnormal before many people. How am I supposed to live? I cannot keep running after him, saying, ‘You’re wrong.’ That’s why I depended on the law. But, even the law doesn’t help. I’m so frustrated.”
Lee (40), the parent of a child victim too shed tears, saying, “Tark denounced our children who lead a good at school life and do volunteer services well, as if they belong to a strange group. Because of what he said, other parents tell their children not to play with my daughter. My child is now afraid of going to school and of going outside of our home, for fear that her friends will make fun of her.”
And Lee let out her pent-up anger, saying, “Tark committed not only contempt but also defamation. He spoke ill of my child, and showed the video with her face in it to many people to give them the impression that she is abnormal, and even spread it on the internet. My daughter’s privacy was invaded. Does it make sense that he just ‘spoke ill’ of her?”
Recently, as child abuse and child sexual abuse cases have been increasing, the importance of children’s rights has begun to emerge. As for this ruling that did not view the problem from the position of the child victims, some criticized that it is a jaundiced view to dilute the matter of children’s rights with a religious matter. The parents of the child victims said earnestly, “We’ve seen the prosecution’s will to appeal. We will prove how much harm came to the children and will restore their honor through the Supreme Court. We’d like to show the children that those who commit a crime will be punished for sure.”
Reporter Jeong-heui Jo