RSF urges South Korea to stop restricting journalists’ foreign travel
As photojournalist Jang Jin-young is appealing a conviction for travelling to Ukraine “without official authorisation”, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges South Korean authorities to amend without delay a legal provision restricting the rights of journalists to travel outside the country.
On August 16, 2023, the Uijeongbu District Court in South Korea will hold a second hearing in the appeal case of freelance photojournalist Jang Jin-young, who in March 2023 was fined 5 million won (nearly EUR 3,500) for travelling to Ukraine “without government authorisation” to cover the war.
The photojournalist was prosecuted under Article 17(1) of the Passport Act, a disposition adopted in 2008 which requires South Korean citizens seeking to travel to a conflict zone to obtain an authorisation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For the reporter and his lawyer, this regulation goes against Article 21 of the country’s constitution that enshrines “freedom of speech and of the press” and prohibits “censorship”.
“South Korean authorities should show gratitude to journalists who risk their lives to inform the public on the war in Ukraine, instead of prosecuting them. We urge the government to immediately suspend the enforcement of this disposition when it relates to journalists, and call on legislators to amend the text without delay so that it won’t impair freedom of the press.
Jang Jin-young was the first South Korean journalist to enter Ukraine after the beginning of the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022. Back to South Korea after a 15-day trip, the reporter published his photo essay under a pseudonym in several national media, including in SisaIN and his work was also presented as part of an exhibition in Seoul.
In Japan as well, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suspended the passports of freelance reporter Kosuke Tsuneoka in 2019 and press photographer Yuichi Sugimoto in 2015, two journalists that routinely covered conflict zones.
South Korea, one of Asia’s leading democracies, ranks 47th of 180 countries in the 2023 RSF World Press Freedom Index.