June 9 (UPI) — A South Korean petition calling for the impeachment of the judge who dismissed a lawsuit against Japanese companies has gathered more than 250,000 signatures.
The petition, uploaded this week after the court ruling, has reached the required number of signatures for the presidential Blue House to respond, Newsis and Seoul Economic Daily reported Wednesday.
Kim Yang-ho, the presiding judge at Seoul Central District Court, had said Monday that the 85 South Korean plaintiffs who are seeking reparations for forced labor in wartime cannot make “individual claims” against Japan or Japanese nationals because of the 1965 Korea-Japan normalization treaty.
“The individual right of a Korean national to claims against Japan or a Japanese national cannot be said to have been extinguished or abandoned due to the 1965 Treaty, but a Korean national’s use of litigation to exercise the right is restricted,” the court had said.
The victims are seeking reparations from 16 Japanese companies, including Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp., Nissan Chemical Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The petition said Kim’s ruling was “nothing but an anti-national judgment that reflects the position of the far-right in Japan.”
Online activists also said that there is “no legal justification for introducing a non-compulsory interpretation of international law, and using it in a domestic trial.”
The Seoul Central District Court decision reached Monday has drawn outrage in Korea, which was colonized by Japan from 1910 to 1945.
The court decision also diverged from a previous South Korean ruling. In 2018, the nation’s Supreme Court ordered Japanese firm Nippon Steel to pay about $90,000 each to plaintiffs in a forced wartime labor case. South Korea’s court also said it could enforce an asset seizure.
Activists said in their petition that Kim’s decision was politically motivated and was reached without reference to legal precedent.
Kim must be “impeached immediately” to “restore the judiciary and the conscience of the nation,” the petition read.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga have yet to meet for their first summit. Moon has proposed improving relations, but Suga has demanded Seoul offer an “appropriate response” on the forced labor issue.
Tokyo has said all claims were settled with the 1965 treaty.