Freelance photojournalist Jang Jin-young is facing criminal charges for covering the war in Ukraine without permission from the South Korean government, with the People’s Coalition for Media Reform planning to appeal the charges in the nation’s Constitutional Court on June 23.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Journalists Association of Korea (JAK), in supporting the appeal and urges the Korean government to quash the criminal charges against Jin-young.
The government of the Republic of Korea charged Jang Jin-young under Article 17(1) of the Passport Act (Restriction on the Use of Passports) on April 14, 2022, which gives power to the government to “stop visiting or staying in a specific country or region only in countries where war has occurred”. On March 28, 2023, Jin-young was fined KRW 5 million (approx. EUR 3,500) for his coverage of the Ukraine war, where he reported without permission or designation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
At the beginning of the war in 2022, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs allocated a select number of journalists in a ‘permit system’ to travel to Ukraine for a limited number of days. Jin-young, a freelance photojournalist, flew to Poland on March 5, 2022, concerned that the limits would restrict the quality and quantity of news coverage on the conflict from Korean media. His work was since picked up by various local outlets including SisaIN and Workers.
Although Jin-young defied the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the legislation under the Passport Act, the People’s Coalition for Media Reform has found Article 17(1) of the Act, the law under which Jing-young was charged, violates Article 21(2) of the South Korean Constitution, which “bans any permit system for press or publication”. As a result, the Coalition will contest the charges and the fine in the Constitutional Court of South Korea.
The Passport Act came into effect in August 2007 and has since blocked reporters from engaging in coverage in conflict zones globally. Korean journalists are also banned from reporting without a government permit in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Libya. The Republic of Korea is the only country in the world to have a ‘permit system’ for reporting in conflict areas.
IFJ said: “The use of the Passport Act, which allegedly violates the constitution of the Republic of Korea, has restricted local reporters’ right to travel to conflict areas to conduct their work, with South Korean citizens forced to rely on foreign coverage of war and conflict. The IFJ stands with the JAK in supporting the People’s Coalition for Media Reform and its appeal of Jin-young’s unfound criminal charges.”