TOKYO — A Japanese journalist is under investigation by South Korean authorities for publishing classified documents outlining Seoul's military strategy against a possible North Korean attack.
The matter has become a closely watched case of press freedom vs. national security under the new civilian government of President Kim Young Sam.
Masato Shinohara, 39, Seoul bureau chief for Fuji Television, was summoned for questioning this week after he allegedly obtained five confidential documents and 31 "important military materials" from at least two Korean officers and published them in a Japanese magazine, Military Research.
The article, "The 1995 Unification with Guns and Swords," reports that South Korea is anticipating an attack from North Korea because of Pyongyang's collapsing economy. It says Seoul has begun preparing its troops and mapping defense strategies for a showdown.
Shinohara, who already has undergone more than 45 hours of questioning, may be arrested or deported for violating laws against collecting classified military material, according to Korean press reports.
His chief news source, South Korean navy Lt. Cmdr. Ko Young Chol, 40, was arrested last week on charges of violating laws protecting military secrets, while army Maj. Chung Choon Il was reprimanded for giving out unclassified material to Shinohara.
Shinohara's report, which South Korean authorities say has been made available in Pyongyang, has led investigators to probe the journalist's North Korean visits in 1987 and 1991 and sparked fears of a diplomatic row between Seoul and Tokyo.
But the issue was not officially raised in meetings this week in Seoul between Japanese Foreign Minister Kabun Muto and his Korean counterpart, Han Sung Joo.
The case has also created an uneasy divide between foreign correspondents in Seoul and the local South Korean press. In a letter to Minister of Information Oh In Hwan on Monday, the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club expressed its "deep concern" over the extensive questioning of Shinohara and said the action, "regardless of the rights or wrongs of the case, augurs badly for press freedom in South Korea."
"At a time of increasing reform and openness in South Korea, the action appears to run contrary to the democratic principles under which President Kim Young Sam took office less than six months ago," said the letter, signed by club president Diane Stormont.
In Tokyo, Fuji TV executive Junichi Maruo said he does not regard the information in Shinohara's report as sensitive and that it would not have created a problem in Japan. The network gave its correspondent permission to write for the unrelated defense magazine.
But the Korean press, which has plastered the story on Page One since Sunday, has focused on Shinohara's alleged expose of military secrets. "We don't think he's a spy, but it's possible the information was given to North Korea. This is extremely dangerous to Korea's security," said Ahn Soon Kwon, the Korea Times' Tokyo correspondent.
The Korean press has also used the case to complain about the better treatment foreign correspondents receive from officials. Recalling that they were muzzled while the foreign press reported such stories as the Kwangju massacre and kidnaping of Kim Dae Jung in Tokyo, Ahn Sung Kyu of the newspaper Joong-ang Ilbo criticized the "irregular and absurd attitude of the Defense Ministry of building high walls to local reporters but showing tolerance to foreign reporters."
The documents, many seized after a June 26 search of Shinohara's home, included information on military operations after unification, plans for the transition period, an analysis of the Gulf War and Korean security and deployment status of air force and army units.
Fuji TV's Maruo said that Shinohara was tired from the extensive questioning but was otherwise in good health and had been treated well by Korean officials.
Quoting South Korean military sources, Shinohara reported that North Korea has begun preparing for war by lowering the age of military recruits, organizing people to produce more materiel and strengthening the tunnel system to hide from air attacks. He said that the North Korean People's Army has taken up as a slogan, "Open up the Gate of 1995 Unification with Guns and Swords."
Chi Jung Nam, researcher in The Times' Seoul Bureau, contributed to this report.