SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A Japanese journalist returned to Tokyo for the first time in eight months on Tuesday after South Korea lifted a travel ban imposed on him for allegedly defaming the South Korean president.
Tatsuya Kato had been banned from leaving South Korea since last August while prosecutors investigated an article he wrote about rumors that President Park Geun-hye was absent for seven hours with a man during a ferry disaster last year that left more than 300 people dead.
Seoul prosecutors formally indicted Kato, a former Seoul bureau chief for the conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper, last October. The indictment raised questions about South Korea's media freedom.
A Seoul prosecutors' office said the Justice Ministry had accepted its request that the travel ban be lifted.
A senior prosecutor said the decision was made after judges determined that Kato's report was inaccurate and that he had promised to attend the remaining sessions in his court case in Seoul. The prosecutor, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case is still ongoing, said the fact Kato's aging mother is sick was also a factor in allowing him to return home.
The prosecutor said he had no information on when the court case would end or when a verdict is expected.
Kato returned to Japan later in the day, where he told reporters that it had been "pretty tough psychologically" to be banned from leaving South Korea.
Japan welcomed Seoul's decision. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that "From our point of view, it's obviously the right thing to do."
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.