Activist for Kopino faces defamation charges

January 27, 2016

By Kim Se-jeong

Koo Bon-chang, an activist who runs a website tracking Korean men who fathered babies with Filipina women out of wedlock is facing a defamation charge.

One of the fathers whose face was disclosed on the website has filed a complaint with the prosecution here for defamation and infringement of privacy, according to Koo.

“The man texted me on Jan. 22 through Kakao, saying he was at the prosecutor’s office with his lawyer to file the charge,” Koo said. Neither the plaintiff nor his lawyer were available for comment.

On the website, Koo has posted photos, names, addresses and ages of 40 fathers which the Filipina women provided. Thirty-two children, also known as Kopinos, found their fathers among the 40.

Posting another person’s photo on the Internet without consent infringes on privacy and defames the person, according to the Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection Act.

Violators are subject to up to a 5 million won (about $4,200) fine or two years in prison. If the information is proven to be false, the fine is increased to 10 million won and the prison term, five years.

Concerns over possible infringement of privacy for the men have been raised since the website’s opening, but this is the first legal action taken against Koo.

He said the suit will not make him stop doing what he is doing. “If I lose the case — whether it’s civil or criminal — I will have to pay a fines or compensation and be done with it, and I’ll do it. But no matter what happens, I will keep the website up and running,” he wrote on his personal blog.

Some lawyers say he violated the law but the punishment will probably not be serious.

“Although he disclosed the men’s faces, it is clear that he did it to help the Kopinos find their fathers, not to defame the men,” said Kim Ji-mi from Lawyers for a Democratic Society.

The law states that if the defamation was committed in pursuit of the public interest it is not subject to punishment.

“This is the grounds upon which he can avoid punishment,” Kim said.

There are an estimated 30,000 Kopinos but no official statistics are available. Most of the men were students or vacationers when they stayed in the Philippines. The children are raised in a poor environment, not fed well or medically treated when they become sick.

An NGO Koo established, “We Love Kopino,” is running the website to help the Filipina mothers find the men so they can begin the legal battle for childcare.

In June 2014, the Seoul Family Court ordered the father of a Kopino child to provide 300,000 won ($250) per month in childcare, the first case involving a Kopino.

When a father contacts the NGO, it links him with the mother. The group removes the photo only when the mother consents. The group also sells cosmetic products to raise funds to cover the cost of taking care of the children.