Korean-American Online Activist to Receive Compensation from a South Korean Media for Calling her Pro-North Korea

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A South Korean court has charged one of the country’s conservative media outlets for defaming a popular online forum designed for immigrant Korean women in the United States, named Missy USA, as a “pro-North Korean faction.”

In September and October of 2014, two Korean journalists published seven articles which accused Linda Lee and several other Missy USA forum members of leading public protests in South Korea against their home country’s government.

Linda Lee
Linda Lee

Those articles were in response to some of the prominent postings on Missy USA, which called for the resignation of South Korean president Park Geun-hye following her administration’s alleged reluctance to fully investigate the ferry Sewol’s sinking in April 2014, one of the worst maritime disasters in recent history which killed more than 300 schoolchildren.

Lee immediately filed both civil and criminal lawsuits against the journalists to the court in Seoul, which ruled on Monday that they must compensate 1 million won (almost $1,000 USD) to Lee.

In addition, two other men (only identified by their last names Song and Lee, respectively) who scathingly criticized Lee in a message on their Facebook pages, have also been ordered to pay a total of 4.5 million won in compensation.

It was a difficult fight for two years,” said Lee. “I thought about giving up the lawsuit at one point, but I had to be brave as there was a strong possibility that if I were to let this one go, someone else may be victimized in the future. False reporting has nothing to do with the freedom of press.”

Such a ruling is significant as it serves as something of a warning sign to a number of South Korean media organizations, which have accused many of the left-wing Korean-Americans of condoning the dictatorial North Korean regime.

After Lee filed the lawsuit, the two South Korean journalists denied her claim, suggesting that the content of their articles must be respected as an expression of freedom. However, the court ruled that Lee has been recklessly condemned by the journalists and that the evidence to support the claim that she is part of a pro-communist faction is simply insufficient.

It was a difficult fight for two years,” said Lee. “I thought about giving up the lawsuit at one point, but I had to be brave as there was a strong possibility that if I were to let this one go, someone else may be victimized in the future. False reporting has nothing to do with the freedom of press.”

Below is the edited summary of the conversation between Lee and the Korea Daily.

– Are you satisfied with the ruling?

It was both unexpected and pleasing. I thought there was a chance I could actually lose the case. This isn’t about how much compensation I am receiving, as it’s important for everyone to know that the lawsuit was filed on the basis that false reporting should not be allowed.

– We understand that you’ve also filed a criminal lawsuit?

Yes, at the same time I filed the civil lawsuit. With the criminal lawsuit, I pressed charges on 41 people, including [the two South Korean journalists]. There hasn’t been much progress with the investigation, but I am hoping that this ruling of the civil lawsuit could make an impact.

– You filed the criminal lawsuit against 41 people, but your civil lawsuit was only against four. Why?

The cost of filing a lawsuit against so many people was difficult to manage. I received some funding from people who supported my cause, which came out to be about $6,000, but there was an additional cost that made things difficult.

– What inspired you to take matters to the court?

To set an example. Calling for an investigation of the ferry disaster is not something that should be seen as a pro-North Korean attitude. I am just an average mother of two children. My children also told me that they understand my decision to fight against this, because they knew that all of this started over their mother trying to do something that is right.

– Will you continue to voice your political concerns about matters in Korea?

I have been asked that question a lot. My mind tells me that I shouldn’t, but even though I live in the U.S., our root is in Korea. Our home country must be headed towards the right direction for us to live in the U.S. as proud Koreans. So I cannot just stop my interest in things that are going on in Korea.

By Sooyeon Oh