Racism in Korea Goes On Trial - Update on the Case

by Kim Eun-jung (Yonhap), 09/09/2009


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Here is an update on the situation: Mr. Park was charged with 'criminal insult'. Apparently, from indictment to pronouncement of sentence typically takes one month. This type of offense is liable for a fine of between W500,000 and W1,000,000. Although the media widely reported this case as the country's first punishment for racial discrimination, that is not the case, because there is no law in Korea prohibiting racial discrimination.

The media have reported that, due to this incident, Democratic Party representative Jeon Byeong-heon plans to introduce a bill banning racial discrimination to the National Assembly. The bill provides that discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, ethnicity, and skin color would, at the order of the National Human Rights Commission, be punishable with up to two years in prison and a fine of up W10,000,000. It remains to be seen if the ruling party and President Lee will be willing to support this effort.


A foreign professor has launched a battle to raise local awareness of racism. -- Being racially ridiculed for his skin color was one thing, but not even having the legal means to lodge a complaint was a bigger shock for Bonojit Hussain, a professor from India who has been living in Seoul for over two years. 

In a case that is certain to leave a mark in South Korea's judicial history, a local court last week accepted a petition filed by Hussain and indicted a Korean man he accused of racial discrimination.  
The defendant, identified only by his last name Park, had called Hussain "smelly" and "dirty" and a string of other epithets while the two were on a local bus in July.
"My goal was not to punish an individual, but to bring the issue to the public forum," the 28-year-old professor said in a phone interview Monday (7 Sept) with Yonhap. "To me, it is obvious that racial discrimination is an everyday phenomenon in Korea, but nobody seems to talk about it in public."    After the incident, Hussain decided to take action against the man by filing a racial discrimination suit. He soon found, however, that no explicit law against racial discrimination exists in South Korea and thus the charge could not be applied.

"When I found out there is no such category on racial discriminatory practices, I thought that racism is more serious and deeper rooted in the society," Hussain said. "Without proper law, foreigners don't have many options but to put up with such situations."  As a result, he filed "personal insult" charges against Park in accordance with local criminal code.
Hussain came to South Korea in early 2007 as a graduate student.Although he majored in history, he soon began to take interest in the country's labor issues. After about a year, he was given a "research professor" title at SungKongHoe University and was tasked with coordinating research on social issues. He chose racism in Asian society as the topic of his paper, which he hopes to complete in the near future.
Soon after the incident on the bus, he filed a petition with South Korea's National Human Rights Commission, claiming that police officers handling his case displayed a discriminatory attitude during his questioning. The investigators, according to Hussain, wasted more than an hour verifying his identity despite his repeated claims that he was a research professor. They would not believe him and were very discourteous, Hussain said. The petition also argues that his personal rights were infringed because South Korea does not have a law that punishes racial discrimination. The commission said it is looking into the petition.

Yonhap 9 September 2009


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