Seoul prosecutors won’t appeal acquittal of Japan reporter

By Hyung-jin Kim, AP

SEOUL–Seoul prosecutors said Wednesday they won’t appeal the recent acquittal of a Japanese journalist they’d earlier charged with defaming South Korea’s president.

Prosecutors had sought an 18-month prison term for Tatsuya Kato of Japan’s conservative Sankei Shimbun, but a Seoul district court declared him not guilty last week. The court said that Kato’s story contained false information but that press freedoms must be protected.

An official at the Seoul Central District Prosecution Service said the office won’t appeal, partly in consideration of ties with Tokyo and partly because the falsehoods in Kato’s story have been made clear. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules.

Kato’s story repeated local media and financial industry rumors that President Park Geun-hye was meeting with a man during a deadly ferry sinking last year that killed more than 300 people, mostly teenagers on a school trip.

Park’s office has said she wasn’t with the man, a former adviser. Her government suffered withering criticism that its rescue and search efforts were too slow and unprofessional.

Kato’s case was a test of free speech in South Korea where critics say government attacks on personal and political liberties have been growing since Park took office in early 2013.

Some analysts also said that Kato’s conviction could have threatened to worsen already-strained ties between Seoul and Tokyo. Many South Koreans still resent Japan’s harsh colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.