SKorea lets journalist go home to Japan with case pending on charge he defamed President Park

Associated Press

South Korea lifted an overseas travel ban on a Japanese journalist charged with defaming the South Korean president, officials said Tuesday.

Tatsuya Kato had been banned from leaving South Korea since last August while prosecutors investigated his article about rumors that President Park Geun-hye was absent for seven hours during a ferry disaster that left more than 300 people dead last year because she was with a man.

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Seoul prosecutors eventually indicted Kato, a former Seoul bureau chief of the conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper, last October. The indictment raised questions about South Korea's media freedom.

A Seoul prosecutors' office said Tuesday that the Justice Ministry had accepted its request to lift the travel ban. Hours after the announcement, Kato was seen by reporters at a Seoul airport ahead of his departure to Japan.

A senior prosecutor said the decision was made after judges determined that Kato's report was inaccurate and that he had promised to attend the remaining sessions in his court case in Seoul. The prosecutor, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case is still ongoing, said the fact Kato's aging mother is sick was also a factor in allowing him to return home.

The prosecutor said he had no information on when the court case would end and when a verdict was expected.

Japan welcomed Seoul's decision. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that "From our point of view, it's obviously the right thing to do, as we have strongly requested. For now, it was good that he was allowed to leave."

With his trial still pending, Japan continues to watch for developments, Suga said.