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As S. Korea Cracks Down on Press, US Visit Is All DPRK, As UN Censors

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 22 -- South Korean authorities have indicted journalist Tatsuya Kato on charges of defaming President Park Geun-hye, and has issued a travel ban blocked him from leaving South Korea.

  When such a travel ban was issued by Afghanistan against American journalist Matthew Rosenberg, both the US government and the UN of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke out against the travel ban.

  But now, even with US Assistant Secretary of State (and former Human Rights Watch official) Tom Malinowski headed to Seoul from October 27 to 28, this is how the US describes his trip:

"From October 27-28, he will visit Seoul, Republic of Korea, where he will meet with government officials, civil society leaders, North Korean defectors, and democracy and human rights program implementers, in order to continue the international community's momentum to address the egregious human rights situation in the DPRK."

  That is, only about North Korea, nothing about South Korea's own record and the indictment and travel ban against this journalist.

  In the UN on October 22, the former chair of the UN's Commission of Inquiry on North Korea, Michael Kirby, will hold a non-televised session in what calls itself a journalists' organization, UNCA.

  This group, perhaps following the silence of Ban Ki-moon with whom they play soccer and to whom they provide photo ops, has said nothing about South Korea's indictment of and travel ban against Tatsuya Kato.

(There is a pattern. Executive committee members of same group, now known as the UN's Censorship Alliance, tried to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN, for its reporting on their murky screening of a Sri Lankan government film denying war crimes.

 One of those supporting the ouster has now tried to put even the first Haiti cholera case against the UN into the Censorship Alliance's non-televised clubhouse. Of course the UN, being sued, would want a presentation by the lawyers to not be on its worldwide Webcast. We and the new Free UN Coalition for Access will have more on this.)

  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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