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Webtoon artist accused of libel maintains innocence  

A webtoon artist accused of defaming late activist farmer Baek Nam-gi -- who died in 2016, 10 months after being blasted by a police water cannon – maintained his innocence after the prosecution Tuesday sought a one-year prison sentence.

Authorities believe that the artist, Yoon Suh-in, created and distributed a series of online cartoons that depicted Baek’s daughter on vacation overseas as her father lay unconscious and critically ill after being struck by a police water cannon in 2015.

Baek’s daughter contends that her overseas trip was to attend a christening ceremony with her in-laws. Baek died while she was away.

Prosecutors say that Yoon’s cartoons were deliberately produced to damage the reputation of Baek and his children. 

Webtoon artist Yoon Suh-in (Yonhap)
Webtoon artist Yoon Suh-in (Yonhap)

Baek, who was expelled from university twice for opposing the authoritarian Park Chung-hee regime in the 1970s, died in 2016 as a result of injuries he suffered while protesting against the Park Geun-hye government. Ousted president Park Geun-hye is the eldest daughter of former president Park Chung-hee.

Yoon, however, strongly objected to the prosecution’s request, saying he is entitled to the basic right to freely express his opinions and feelings, and further insisted that what he claimed in his work was true -- that Baek’s daughter was on vacation overseas while her father was in a coma. 

The artist added that he was “more than convinced” that he would be acquitted.

“No cartoon writer has ever gone to jail for things similar to what I have done, except for those who live under dictatorships where democracy and the constitution are severely compromised.”

The prosecution also requested one year in prison for former MBC reporter Kim Se-eui, who also claimed in 2016 that Baek’s daughter went to Bali on vacation while her father was hospitalized.

The late Baek is seen as a victim of police brutality and restrictions on freedom of assembly during the Park administration, which denied that police violence was the direct cause of Baek’s death.

Earlier this year, a special human rights investigation team within the police concluded that police were responsible for Baek’s injuries, which it said were caused by the water cannon.

The verdict and sentencing for Yoon and reporter Kim is scheduled for Oct. 26.

According to South Korea's Criminal Act, a person who falsely defames another publicly is subject to up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 10 million won ($8,900).

Truth is currently not acknowledged as a complete defense against defamation charges in South Korea. Even if what Kim and Yoon claimed is ruled to be true, they could still be subject to two years in prison and a fine of up to 5 million won.