SEOUL — A prosecutor has suspended a charge against a South Korean producer who was forced to leave Iraq in August while filming a television documentary about the U.S. military.
Kim Young-me was accused of breaking South Korea’s year-old travel ban to Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia and faced up to a year in prison and a 3 million won (about $2,500) fine.
Kim, 38, was notified of the decision by letter. She said she believes the prosecutor suspended the charge to avoid a controversial trial.
"I see this decision as a warning not to go to Iraq again. But as I read it, I thought to myself, ‘I should go to Iraq again soon,’" she said.
Prosecutor Lee Kyung-soo decided on Sept. 16 to suspend the indictment for three years and lift the travel ban based on Kim’s motivation, the results of her trip and the circumstances involved, a spokesman for the Seoul South District Prosecutor’s Office said Monday.
Kim was embedded with several U.S. military units in Iraq from May to August while she reported on life for U.S. troops in the war zone. She was scheduled to leave in October, but her government forced her to leave after a South Korean officer in Iraq learned she was there and reported her.
Kim fought to stay, arguing journalists should be exempt from the law so they could report freely. When she returned to South Korea, she was banned from leaving the country.
Kim said she received good reactions to her one-hour documentary aired earlier this month on KBS, the country’s public broadcasting channel.
"Many audiences said they’ve got to see up close what and how U.S. soldiers deployed to Iraq war are living there," she said. "Plenty of audiences said they view U.S. soldiers as the victims rather than the offenders."
During an August interview with Stars and Stripes, Kim said she thought her government’s decision to pull her from Iraq was politically motivated: Few news reports about Iraq are filed in Korean, and the government doesn’t want people to think South Korean troops are in danger and push to withdraw them from Iraq.
"They don’t want journalists working in Iraq," she said.
Kim, a single mother with a 13-year-old son, plans to go to the United States soon to cover the presidential election. She hasn’t made plans to go back to Iraq, but she’s glad she went.
"I felt all the hardships I’ve gone through were rewarded," she said.