Choi Jin-sil’s slanderer given lighter punishment on appeal
Deceased actress Choi Jin-shil‘s netizen tormentor (identified only as Baek, female) has been penalized with 40 million won fine ($35,000) in an appeal trial, which reverses her earlier sentencing. Baek is the netizen who slandered and harassed Choi, even calling the actress at home, before Choi committed suicide last October.
For a refresher:
One of Choi Jin-shil’s best friends, Jung Sun-hee, married actor and businessman Ahn Jae-hwan in 2007, whose business started to run into trouble in 2008. Choi lent him money (2.5 billion won, or $2 million) to help get him back on his feet, but in the end it wasn’t enough, and Ahn committed suicide in September 2008.
(Jung had made statements about the mad-cow candlelight protests where thousands showed up in opposition of President Lee Myung-bak giving in to U.S. political pressure to lift the ban on U.S. beef imports — and people boycotted her home-shopping line in reaction to it. As a result, Ahn’s cosmetics line failed and he was facing financial difficulties.)
Shortly after Ahn’s suicide, a netizen started to spread false rumors that Choi had acted as a “loan shark” to Ahn, and that she had pressured and threatened him for repayment, effectively blaming Choi for Ahn’s suicide. Choi suffered severe depression and, provoked by malicious net-slander, committed suicide not long after, in October 2008.
Prosecuting Choi’s tormentor:
The severity of the slander (and the high profile of its target) prompted police to find its source, and traced it to Baek, an employee at a brokerage firm. In the initial trial, she was given 10 months of jail time on a 2 year suspended sentence (no actual jail time if 2 years of probation are clean) and 120 hours of community service.
The case was tried on appeal, and on December 10, 2009, she was issued a penalty fine of 40 million won by the Seoul Central District Court, which takes the place of her previous punishment. The court explained its decision by saying that although Baek had severely defamed Choi’s character with groundless claims and the nature of her crime was terrible, she was not responsible for the suicide and therefore the initial sentencing was too harsh.
Cyber slander laws:
In the wake of Choi’s suicide (and the rash of celebrity suicides that followed last year), there has been a push to enact cyber slander laws against attacks of this kind. However, there have been arguments that Choi’s death has been exploited politically to allow the government to impose restrictions on free speech.
Meanwhile, Choi’s two children had been embroiled in a bitter custody dispute between her family (brother Choi Jin-young and her mother) and her baseball player ex-husband Jo Sung-min, who is notorious for having previously beaten Choi and cheating on her, and who had not seen his children in years. (Choi had in fact won the right to register the children under her family name in 2008.)
In the end, perhaps swayed by the heated public outcry, Jo relented and gave up his claim.