Korean court acquits woman of lying about ferry rescue

January 9, 2015
In a live interview aired on April 18, Hong posed as a civilian diver and told the MBN channel that the Coast Guard was preventing her peers from trying to rescue those missing. She also said one of the divers was able to communicate with the survivors through the ferry's hull. (Korea Times file)

In a live interview aired on April 18, Hong posed as a civilian diver and told the MBN channel that the Coast Guard was preventing her peers from trying to rescue those missing. She also said one of the divers was able to communicate with the survivors through the ferry’s hull. (Korea Times file)

MOKPO, South Korea (Yonhap) – A district court on Friday acquitted a 26-year-old woman accused of defaming the Korean Coast Guard by saying it was blocking civilian rescue operations in the immediate aftermath of April’s ferry disaster.

The Korean Coast Guard (KCG), now part of the new safety ministry, had sued Hong Ga-hye for slander after she told a local cable channel two days after the ferry sinking that the KCG was stopping civilian divers from searching for those missing.

The ferry Sewol was en route to a southern resort island on April 16 when it took a sudden turn and capsized off the southwest coast. More than 300 people, mostly teenagers, perished with the ferry, making it one of the deadliest disasters in modern South Korean history.

The KCG took much of the flak for the heavy death toll, as many blamed the government’s poor initial response for the massive loss of life.

In a live interview aired on April 18, Hong posed as a civilian diver and told the MBN channel that the Coast Guard was preventing her peers from trying to rescue those missing.

She also said one of the divers was able to communicate with the survivors through the ferry’s hull.

But soon, allegations that she may have lied emerged, as she was also found to have claimed she was a cousin of a famous South Korean girl group singer in the past.

Despite her history, however, the Mokpo branch of the Gwangju District Court said Hong was not guilty of libel because it was difficult to prove that her claims were false.

“What she posted on social media and told the cable channel seems to have been meant to spur an effective government response to the disaster,” Judge Jang Jeong-hwan said in a ruling. “It is difficult to say whether it was untrue or constituted defamation of the KCG.”

The judge, however, conceded that her actions were inappropriate.

“But this is not to justify her actions. There were inappropriate aspects of her behavior, which were dangerous throughout the trial,” he added.

Prosecutors had sought a year and a half jail term for the woman.

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