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Court rules comic is obscene

Posted July. 19, 2000 14:36,   


A Seoul District Court¡¯s finding a renowned cartoonist guilty of obscenity over one of his books has triggered a fierce dispute about the legal yardstick for obscenity.

A Seoul District Court judge sentenced Lee Hyun-Se, 44, author of the comic book series ¡°Heaven¡¯s Myth,¡± to a fine of 3 million won, convicting him of obscenity over the controversial series.

The ruling rekindles the controversy over obscenity because it is clearly is contrary to a Seoul prosecutor¡¯s decision to drop criminal charges over the movie ¡°Lies,¡± against which a complaint was filed for obscenity.

¡°Heaven¡¯s Myth¡± is an epic set in Korean history, spanning the period from the nation¡¯s creation to the collapse of Palhae, the ancient Korean kingdom in northeast China.

Lee said he attempted to describe in pictures that mankind is going to an era of modernization with a natural divine nature and philosophy, discarding the barbarous nature from the times of chaos, when man was not distinguished from animals.

As a result, the book contains many scenes that triggered a controversy over obscenity. They include group sex and sex with animals in primitive villages, and dead bodies pierced by numerous spears. Such scenes gave rise to a fierce debate over whether they are too violent and obscene, or are harmful to minors.

¡°Prior to the legal judgment, I tried to see the book from a parent¡¯s viewpoint, and I judged that it is not suitable for children and harmful to them,¡± Judge Kim Jong-Pil said. ¡°A work that is difficult even for adults and is obscene was distributed to elementary school children, and this creates a problem in that it stimulates the sexual desire of young people and jeopardizes normal morality.¡±

¡°I think the conservative court needs to draw a definite line in order to establish criteria at the very time when obscene materials, including Japanese comic books, causing disputes over obscenity, are flooding the market,¡± the judge added.

The judge¡¯s remarks indicate that the court should interpret obscenity laws more strictly to protect minors.

The court¡¯s judgment shows a difference from the prosecutor¡¯s decision to clear the film ¡°Lies¡± of its suspected obscenity last month.

¡°We have to allow the market and consumers to evaluate cultural and artistic works for themselves,¡± the prosecutor in that case said.

Yet the court said that ¡°works distributed to the general public exercise have social influence beyond an individual¡¯s artistic freedom, so we could not but call to account the social responsibility of Lee representing Korea¡¯s comic circle.¡±

Shim Kwang-Hyun, secretary general of Citizens Solidarity for Cultural Reforms, said: ¡°Basically, ¡®Heaven¡¯s Myth¡¯ is no different from ¡®Lies,¡¯ but the author was found guilty. This means that the court applies the law with any principle just on the grounds to protect young people.¡±

Korean cultural circles and cartoonists also objected to the court¡¯s ruling, claiming that the ruling restricts the freedom of creation of mass media and obstructs the development of the domestic comic industry, which is on the verge of collapse.

They also worried that the ruling might discourage Korean cartoonists at a time when Japanese comic books are expected to pour in following the government¡¯s third measure to liberalize the import of Japanese culture.

¡°The ruling is something like a terror on comics, in a word,¡± comic critic Park In-Ha, 33, said.

Lee, who declared he would not work again in the course of the prosecutor¡¯s investigation, said he would appeal to a higher court, heralding the continued legal battle over the issue.