A former South Korean presidential contender accused of raping his female aide has been found not guilty, prompting anger from campaigners. Ahn Hee-jung’s case is by far the highest-profile in the country’s growing #MeToo movement. Before the accusations came to light he was widely seen as a strong candidate to replace President Moon Jae-in when his term ends in 2022. He stepped down immediately after he was accused.
On Tuesday, Ahn was acquitted of forced sexual abuse, sexual intercourse by abuse of authority and other charges by the Seoul western district court. “I am sorry and I am so ashamed,” he said on the courthouse steps. “I have disappointed many. I will make efforts to be born again,” he went on, as women’s rights activists shouted “It’s not over yet!” at him. Prosecutors described the verdict as “incomprehensible” and vowed to appeal.
South Korea remains socially patriarchal despite its economic and technological advances, with a male-dominated legal system often accused of handing out verdicts favouring men in sex abuse cases. Ahn was governor of South Chungcheong province when his aide Kim Ji-eun told a television interview earlier this year that he had raped her four times after she was hired. Fighting back tears, she said she had been unable to reject her boss in the rigid hierarchy of her office.