Disgraced South Korean poet Ko Un loses defamation suit

Ko Un, an 85-year-old former Buddhist monk, was one of the country's most respected contemporary poets

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Ko Un
International Literature Festival, Rome, Italy - 26 Jun 2013
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A South Korean poet once tipped for the Nobel Prize for Literature on Friday lost a defamation suit against a fellow writer who accused him, in verse, of sexual abuse.

Ko Un, an 85-year-old former Buddhist monk, was one of the country's most respected contemporary poets until allegations of sexual misconduct against junior writers surfaced last year amid the #MeToo movement.

One of those young writers was Choi Young-mi, who suggested the revered poet had a dark side in a poem titled Monster, published in December 2017.

In it, Choi described sexual harassment she suffered at the hands of a poet named "En".

"Don't sit next to En/ the poet 'K' advised me, a literary novice/ He touches young women whenever he sees one," Choi's poem begins.

While she did not explicitly identify "En" as Ko in her poem or in a subsequent television interview, South Korean media and commentators concluded the two were identical.

The disgraced poet subsequently brought the defamation suit against Choi – claiming her assertions were false – as well as another writer and a newspaper.

But a South Korean court on Friday turned down his nearly $1 million claim against Choi and the paper. It ordered writer Park Jin-seong to pay him a small sum over comments unrelated to Choi's case.

In its verdict, Seoul Central District Court cited Choi's "detailed and consistent testimonies".

"There was no reason to suspect her claims were false," the court said, according to Yonhap news agency.

Choi said in a local interview in July that she should have written Monster a decade earlier to weed out a long-ingrained culture of sexual misconduct.

"I'd like to thank the court for proving that justice prevails," Choi told reporters after the verdict. "I wish those who tried to conceal the truth in earnest would atone themselves," she said.

The global #Metoo phenomenon has exposed South Korea's previously unreported cases of sexual misconduct by high-profile figures, including a former presidential contender, in cultural, sports and various other sectors in the country where patriarchal values remain deeply ingrained.

Expectations for Ko to win the Nobel Prize for Literature were so high in the years before the allegations that reporters were sent to wait outside his home moments before the announcement in case he clinched the honour.