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Journalist Chun Kaun Lee arrested, detained following government complaint

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate release of Chun Keun Lee, a journalist employed by public TV station MBC, who was arrested on the evening of 25 March 2009 in Seoul on the orders of the prosecutor's office.

When a Reporters Without Borders representative met Lee earlier on 25 March, he said he knew he might be arrested in connection with a report about beef imports from the United States. After Lee's arrest, the representative went to MBC headquarters to express the organisation's solidarity with other journalists who might be arrested for the same reason.

"Arresting a journalist at night in order to take him before a prosecutor is an abusive procedure that does no credit to South Korean democracy, especially as it was the government that brought the complaint," Reporters Without Borders said. "This arrest is meant as a punishment for an MBC journalist who produced an investigative programme that was one of the triggers of last year's anti-government rioting."

The press freedom organisation added: "We call for Lee's immediate release and the withdrawal of the agriculture ministry complaint that led to his arrest."

Lee and his wife were driving in a car near MBC headquarters when its path was suddenly blocked at 10:20 p.m. (local time) by two or three unmarked cars. Police got out and presented him with a summons to go to the prosecutor's office. When he declined to go, they presented him with an arrest warrant and took him by force. He is currently held at the office of the Seoul prosecutor.

When Reporters Without Borders met Lee on 25 March, he had already been summoned by the prosecutor in connection with the broadcast that set off the widespread protests, which was broadcast in April 2008 on the MBC investigative programme PD Note. The agriculture ministry accused the programme's journalists of defamation earlier this month on the grounds of "small translation errors."

Speaking to Reporters Without Borders a few hours before his arrest, Lee said: "I reject the legality of the entire proceedings initiated against us by the government. Ninety-nine percent of our information was correct and, anyway, we already apologised for the translation errors. This case is a threat to the democratic system (. . .) Yes, I am afraid of being arrested."

Lee and his colleagues face up to five years in prison.

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