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As S. Korea Cracks Down on Questioning of Park, Ban's UN Notably Silent

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 31 -- A recent and ongoing press freedom case in South Korea has echoed all the way to the UN in New York. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was a long-time South Korean diplomat before taking up his UN post. But he has been notably quiet about press freedom generally, and now strikingly, with regard to South Korea.

  The government in Seoul has summoned Sankei Shimbun's Tatsuya Kato on possible charges of defaming President Park Geun-hye, and has blocked him from leaving South Korea in the interim.

  At issue is an article that Tatsuya Kato wrote and Sankei Shimbun published, citing the South Korean publication Chosun Ilbo, that during the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April, President Park was not seen for seven hours and may have been trysting with a recently divorced former aide.

  While understandably causing anger, such a report should not trigger travel bans or criminal charges.

  It is particularly troubling that while Tatsuya Kato of Japan's Sankei has been targeted, the South Korean publication Chosun Ilbo from which he quoted is not being targeted. This disparate treatment of journalists, based on nationality or other factors, should not be tolerated.

  As a comparison, when Afghanistan recently imposed a similar travel ban on a New York Times reporter, not only the US State Department but also many others spoke out.

  But when at the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman was twice -- three times, actually -- asked about South Korea's treatment of Sankei Shimbun's Tatsuya Kato, only platitudes emerged. Continuing the trend on August 31, Ban Ki-moon's comment on the coup in Lesotho did not mention that the military took over the television and radio stations there.

  The day's New York Times recounted how South Korean artist Hong Sung-dam had his painting depicting Park Geun-hye and his view of her role in the sinking of the Sewol ferry censored by authorities in Gwangju.

  Some including the new Free UN Coalition for Access, an anti-censorship alliance established at the UN during and counter to Ban Ki-moon's time in control, have noted a trend toward ignoring some attacks on the media. How far back does it go? What will happen in South Korea, and at the UN? Watch this site.


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