Outlaw or ignore? How Asia is fighting ‘fake news’

Everybody is talking about it: fake news.

President Trump decries it every time he sees a critical article, the Pope has condemned it, governments are fretting about its influence, holding parliamentary hearings.

And now Malaysia has passed a law criminalising it, with a penalty of up to six years in jail. Yet no-one has defined what it is.

The term first came to prominence during the 2016 US presidential election campaign. But the problem of deliberately falsified news articles, masquerading as properly-researched journalism, goes back centuries.

However, the Malaysian government’s definition in the recently-passed law is far more sweeping than that.

It has criminalised the dissemination of “any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas”.

Human rights groups have been quick to point out that this could be used against anyone who makes an error in their reporting or social media posts.

Moreover at least one member of the government has already stated that, when it comes to articles critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak, especially over the notorious 1MDB scandal, where billions of dollars of a government-run investment board are alleged to have been misappropriated, any information not verified as true by the government will be viewed as fake news.

The fact that this law has been rushed through right before what is likely to be a hard-fought general election has raised suspicions that its real purpose is to intimidate government critics.

It is not clear anyway that Malaysia has a serious fake news problem.

In a response to the concerns expressed about the new law, the communications and multimedia minister Salleh Said Keruak highlighted the foreign media’s failure to get the sometimes complicated string of official titles for high-ranking Malaysians right – irritating, yes, but hardly a threat to national security.

The article goes on to excoriate mainstream media which have published negative pieces about Mr Najib, calling them fake news, and thus rather confirming suspicions that the law is aimed at them, rather than the manipulation of social media opinion through fraudulent Facebook accounts and automated Twitter bots.

‘Better safe than sorry’

Singapore is the other country which has raised the alarm over fake news, holding 50 hours of parliamentary hearings.

Facebook’s policy director Simon Milner was publicly dressed down by the law and home affairs minister K Shanmugam over his failure to acknowledge the full extent of data taken by the data analysis company Cambridge Analytica when he testified to the British parliament earlier this year.

Academics speaking at the Singapore hearings presented an alarming scenario of disinformation campaigns launched by foreign actors bent on attacking the island state, of cyber armies in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore working as proxies for other countries in undermining national security.

It also gave Singapore academics and officials an opportunity to snipe at the US belief in free expression, the “marketplace of ideas”, which had allowed the abuse of personal data on Facebook to take place, in contrast to Singapore’s “better safe than sorry” belief in a more tightly regulated society.

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    But the actual examples of fake news which have come up during this national debate have mostly been prosaic; a hoax photo showing a collapsed roof at a housing complex, which sent officials rushing unnecessarily to the scene; and an erroneous report of a collision between two trains on the light rail transit line.

    Irritating and worrying for some, for a while, but hardly likely to bring Singapore society to its knees. In any case both Singapore and Malaysia already have plenty of laws capable of penalising false, inflammatory or defamatory comment.

    A poisonous tide

    In the country where social media misinformation has had the most devastating impact, by contrast, there is no clamour for a fake news law.

    Myanmar too has a raft of existing harsh laws sweeping enough to stifle any reporting deemed a threat to the state or society, laws which all too often have been used to jail journalists.

    But these laws have been unable to prevent a poisonous tide of hate speech on social media, which has helped ignite anti-Muslim sentiment.

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      Myanmar famously leapt from being a society largely without even old-fashioned telephone lines, to one with more than 40 million mobile phone accounts, in just three years.

      Seventeen million people have Facebook accounts, and as in so much of Asia, this is how most Burmese send messages and get their news.

      Most don’t bother with email accounts. This has coincided with the end of strict military censorship, and the emergence in the mainly Buddhist population of a primeval fear of the small Muslim minority.

      It has been all too easy to find cartoons and doctored photographs on Facebook which depict Muslims in a sinister and derogatory way. Worse still, large numbers of posts about Muslims are completely false, with photographs purporting to show atrocities against Buddhists by Muslims which are from a completely different part of the world.

      The government has done nothing to stem this tide of disinformation, at times appearing to encourage it.

      For example the Facebook page of the Myanmar armed forces still has on it a gruesome photograph with a caption stating that the dismembered bodies of infants, being dragged by apparently Muslim men, are Rakhine Buddhists killed by Rohingya militants in 1942.

      In fact the photograph is from the Bangladesh independence war in 1971.

      When journalists, myself among them, were given photographs in September 2017 during a government-run tour of Rakhine state, supposedly showing Muslims burning down their own homes, backing the assertion by officials that this was the cause of the destruction of Rohingya villages, we were quickly able to ascertain that the perpetrators in the photos were actually displaced Hindus dressed up as Muslims.

      Yet the government spokesman posted one of the photos on his Twitter feed proclaiming “It’s Truth”, although he later removed it. I was told in all seriousness in one Rakhine village that Muslims used to cut up Buddhists and cook them with their beef stew.

      These kinds of stories are circulating unchallenged in Myanmar, creating a tide of fear and hate which then intimidates anyone trying to advocate a more tolerant approach into silence.

      The UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee, who has herself been subjected to vicious online abuse for her focus on human rights in Rakhine, and has now been banned from entering the country, has described Facebook there as “a beast”.

      Facebook says it takes the problem of hate speech very seriously, but has yet to stop the site being used to stir up sectarian conflict.

      The social media game changer

      The other country where social media has had a profound impact is the Philippines, where critics of President Duterte have accused his supporters of “weaponising” Facebook and Twitter to twist public opinion and silence dissent.

      Filipinos are among the heaviest users of Facebook in Asia, with more than one third of the population visiting the social media site regularly.

      This is has made it a potentially game-changing arena for political actors who know how best to use it, in a country which has long had a lively and competitive traditional media.

      Long before the 2016 election which propelled Rodrigo Duterte, a late candidate with outsider status, to the presidency, the internet was already being exploited by public relations experts promoting products and opinions with so-called “click factories”, where thousands of low-paid workers raised the clicks for specific websites, and companies openly offering hundreds of fake Facebook or Twitter accounts in support of the online profile of clients.

      After announcing his candidacy in November 2015 Rodrigo Duterte hired social media experts to craft a strategy which outflanked the usual dependence on endorsement from mainstream newspapers and television channels.

      It worked brilliantly, tapping into a hitherto unarticulated yearning for change among many Filipinos.

      But researchers have also detected what they believe is the use of automated bots and fake Facebook accounts to amplify the pro-Duterte message, something the president’s team has denied.

      The online news site Rappler published a detailed report about this in October 2016, enraging Mr Duterte’s supporters, and, it believes, prompting the ruling in January this year by the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission that the site is illegally owned by foreign investors, a claim first made by the president last year.

      Rappler also highlighted the way Facebook’s algorithms could be “gamed” to ensure certain content dominates users’ newsfeeds.

      Leaving aside the allegations of social media manipulation, what President Duterte’s supporters have succeeded in doing is using Facebook and other sites to wage a war of words against his critics, or anyone publishing unfavourable reports.

      I experienced this in September 2016 after the BBC published a report on Mr Duterte’s campaign against drugs dealers and users which has resulted in thousands of police and extrajudicial killings.

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        I received a flood of hostile messages, and a few death threats on my Facebook page, and the BBC complaints site was swamped with almost identical protests over “erroneous and biased” reporting. Maria Ressa, the CEO and founder of Rappler, was at one point getting 90 hate messages an hour.

        In part this militant response has been shaped by Mr Duterte’s own depiction of his presidency, more as an existential struggle to save his country than just another administration.

        Mr Duterte uses emotive and bellicose language to describe his mission, openly threatening to kill those who stand in his way, including journalists, and suggesting he may in turn be killed, by unnamed enemies.

        Having successfully motivated those who voted for him into believing he could be a one-man saviour for the many ailments afflicting the Philippines, he, like President Trump in the US, has also instilled in his supporters a deep mistrust of traditional mainstream news sources, as controlled by powerful vested interests set on ensuring the failure of his presidency – “presstitutes”, in their preferred term.

        Nowhere has the political climate been more polarised than in Myanmar and the Philippines.

        Yet hearings at the Philippines Senate concluded that a specific fake news law was unnecessary, and possibly counterproductive.

        Clarissa David, a professor of mass communications at the University of the Philippines, testified to the Senate about the dangers of an information environment she described as “polluted”, with no one sure any more what is real and reliable, and what is fake.

        But she warned against easy definitions of fake news. And trying to outlaw it, she argued, is not worth the inevitable cost there will be for media freedom.

        Hers is an argument which was made, but lost, in Malaysia.

Philippines to temporarily close popular tourist island Boracay

The Philippine island of Boracay will be closed to tourists for six months following concerns of damage to its once pristine shores.

A spokesperson for President Rodrigo Duterte said the closure would begin on 26 April.

Earlier this year Mr Duterte said Boracay was turning into a “cesspool” and threatened to shut it down.

The island, known for its white-sand beaches, attracted nearly 2 million visitors last year.

The decision has prompted concern for the thousands of people employed in Boracay’s busy tourist trade.

The island is home to around 500 tourism-related businesses, which drew in annual revenue of $1.07bn (£760m) last year. The government said affected companies will receive financial aid.

It’s not clear how the shutdown will be implemented, though the department of trade and industry had earlier proposed closing the island down in phases, saying a total shutdown would be detrimental to businesses and livelihoods.

Damage fears

The move follows growing concern over the island’s environmental health.

Officials had warned businesses had been releasing wastewater into the surrounding waters.

In February, Mr Duterte condemned the island’s hotels, restaurants and other tourist businesses, accusing them of dumping sewage directly into the sea.

“I will charge you for serious neglect of duty [for] making Boracay a fishpond or a sewer pool,” Mr Duterte said at the time.

“Either [you] clean it up or I will close it permanently. There will be a time that no more foreigners will go there.”

Japanese women ordered from sumo ring during first aid

Women who rushed to perform first aid on a man who collapsed in a sumo ring in Japan were ordered by a referee to leave the ring, because females are banned from the space.

The ring is regarded as sacred and women, traditionally seen as “impure”, are forbidden from entering.

They ran into the ring when Maizuru city mayor Ryozo Tatami collapsed while giving a speech.

The head of Japan’s sumo association later apologised to the women.

“The announcement [to get off the stage] was made by a referee who was upset, but it was an inappropriate act in a situation that involves one’s life,” Nobuyoshi Hakkaku, the sumo association’s chief said in a statement.

“We deeply apologise.”

Local reports later emerged that spectators saw salt being thrown into the ring after the women had left.

In Japanese culture, salt is thrown into the sumo ring before a match to purify it. Some on social media said the gesture implied that the women had “dirtied” the ring.

“How rude is it that they threw salt to cleanse the ring after the women went in?” one Japanese Twitter user said.

“This is the response to someone who tried to save a life? I think we’d better sprinkle salt on the head of the sumo association,” another added.

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    Mr Tatami was taken to hospital and is in a stable condition.

    It is not the first time women entering the sumo ring has sparked controversy.

    In 2000, the then governor of Osaka Fusae Ota asked the sumo association to allow her to enter the ring so she could present a trophy to the champion wrestler, but her request was rejected.

Nguyen Van Dai: Vietnam jails activist lawyer and five others

Six prominent Vietnamese activists have received heavy prison sentences on charges of “attempting to overthrow” the country’s communist government.

Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to 15 years, while the other defendants were jailed for between seven and 12 years, relatives said on Thursday.

Several protesters who marched towards the court in Hanoi were taken away by plainclothes police.

Human rights groups have criticised the charges against the activists.

The convicted individuals are linked to the Brotherhood for Democracy, a self-described activist network.

In December 2015, having already served a previous four-year prison sentence, Nguyen Van Dai was arrested along with his assistant.

Although they were initially charged with producing anti-state propaganda, they were later accused of attempting to overthrow the state. The other four activists were arrested in July.

Nguyen Van Dai’s wife told BBC Vietnamese of her “surprise and resentment” at the verdict and said her husband had defended himself “vigorously”.

“Their defence in court show they were patriotic and peaceful. If the trial had lasted for another day, I think the prosecutors would be unable to keep on debating,” Vu Minh Khanh said.

The court “had no evidence but they still tried to charge the defendants with crimes”, she said.

“We were outraged. We the relatives cried after the trial ended and shouted it was an unfair trial.”

The case has received widespread attention in Vietnam, which has strict censorship rules.

In a report released earlier this week, human rights campaign group Amnesty International described Hanoi as “one of South East Asia’s most prolific jailers of peaceful activists”, and said that at least 97 political prisoners were currently serving jail sentences across the country.

In January, three activists were sentenced to between six and eight years in prison for distributing propaganda against the state, while the popular environmental blogger known as Mother Mushroom was jailed on the same charges in 2017.

Studio Ghibli to open ‘Totoro’ theme park in Japan

Japanese animation giant Studio Ghibli has unveiled plans for a theme park to open in 2020.

The 200-hectare site will be built in Nagoya city, in Aichi prefecture, said Governor Hideaki Omura on Thursday at a press conference.

The park will be based on the popular film My Neighbor Totoro, embodying the movie’s theme of “respecting and embracing nature”.

The studio’s feature films are loved by many and critically-acclaimed.

My Neighbor Totoro was released in 1988 and tells the story of two young sisters who settle into an old country house while waiting for their mother to recover from an illness.

During their adventures, they encounter and befriend playful forest spirits, most notably the massive cuddly creature known as Totoro.

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    The site of the park, previously the home of the 2005 World Expo, currently has a life-size replica of the house from the film.

    Co-founder of Studio Ghibli and producer Toshio Suzuki who was also at the announcement, said the attraction will be “set in the world of Totoro”. There will not be any amusement park rides.

    “Construction will be planned around existing clearings to avoid felling trees,” Governor Omura said.

    Ghibli fans around the world reacted to the news of the upcoming park.

    “Wow literally reading [about] a Studio Ghibli theme park and I started crying! Not joking. This makes me so happy,” wrote a US fan on Twitter.

    Notably, there was much excitement from adult Ghibli fans who spoke about wanting to take their children with them to the attraction.

    “I think our kids might be able to handle the trip by 2020,” Charles Tran said to his wife on Facebook.

    “Time to get working on raising funds for the kids,” wrote James McGlone from Perth.

    But others parents just wanted to go enjoy the experience themselves.

    “Leave the boys at home, we’re heading to Japan in 2020 for the Summer Olympics and this,” said Paul Newman to his wife Anita on Facebook.

    “It isn’t just children who want to ride the Cat Bus! This makes adults excited,” said Maryam Lee.

    The proposed park would not be the only Studio Ghibli attraction in Japan. It currently has a museum in Tokyo and many fans visit a bathhouse in Kyoto city which was the inspiration for the Oscar-winning anime Spirited Away.

    This year, legendary founder Hayao Miyazaki came out of retirement and announced plans to direct a new movie.

Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata dies at 82

Japanese anime director Isao Takahata, co-founder of the famed Studio Ghibli, has died at the age of 82.

Mr Takahata was nominated for an Oscar in 2014 for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya but is best known for his film Grave of the Fireflies.

He founded Studio Ghibli with iconic director Hayao Miyazaki in 1985.

It has produced several blockbusters and become one of the world’s most renowned animation studios.

Mr Takahata started his career in animation in 1959 at Japan’s Toei studio, where he met Mr Miyazaki, who is usually seen as the face of Studio Ghibli.

The duo went on to co-found Studio Ghibli, and were described by local media as friends and rivals at the same time.

Mr Takahata’s film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya earned him an Academy Award nomination in 2014 for best animated feature.

But his most loved work remains was the 1988 film Grave of the Fireflies, a heartbreaking tale of two orphans during World War Two.

He also had a hand in producing other well-known works like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky.

Park Geun-hye: South Korea’s first female president

In just four years South Korea’s president Park Geun-went from being a trailblazer to a figure of controversy linked to a deepening corruption scandal.

An angered Korean public called for her resignation and she was officially impeached in March 2017.

Her unpopularity stands in stark contrast to the start of her term in 2012. In a tight presidential race, she beat Moon Jae-in to became the country’s first female leader.

It was a notable achievement given that South Korea had the highest level of gender inequality in the developed world.

Political blue-blood

Park was no stranger to the presidential house when she took office. She is the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, a controversial strongman.

When her mother was murdered by a North Korean gunman in 1974, Park served as first lady at the age of 22. Five years later, her father was assassinated.

Some said the association with her father – and her experience as first lady – helped cement her win by overcoming prejudices among male voters.

But Park’s personal history fell under public scrutiny again with the scandal surrounding Choi Soon-sil, her longtime confidante.

The two women’s relationship stretches back to the 1970s when Choi’s father, the shadowy quasi-religious figure Choi Tae-min, befriended the Park family.

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    But in 2016, allegations began emerging that Choi Soon-sil was being given inappropriate access to government decision-making, including editing some of Park’s speeches.

    Choi was later accused of using her friendship to pressure some of South Korea’s biggest companies into paying money into non-profit foundations she ran, in exchange for securing favourable treatment from the government.

    Choi was eventually found guilty of corruption and influence-peddling, as was the de facto head of Samsung, one of the companies allegedly involved.

    Park, who is accused of colluding with her friend, was impeached by parliament in December 2016. She was officially ousted in March 2017 when the decision was upheld in the supreme court, and was arrested on corruption charges.

    Everyone involved has apologised but consistently denied wrongdoing.

    Mixed legacy

    Park is not married, something that has raised questions in South Korea’s conservative society, and is seen as a private individual.

    She holds an engineering degree from Sogang University in Seoul and was first elected to South Korea’s National Assembly in 1998.

    She sought the presidency in 2007, but her Saenuri, or New Frontier Party, instead nominated Lee Myung-bak, who went on to win.

    When she took office Park vowed to improve the economy by boosting creativity and entrepreneurship, but she struggled to push through reforms amid economic scandals.

    She also promised to work on “national reconciliation” with North Korea, but vowed she would not tolerate any action that threatened national security, and said the South must present a “strong deterrent” to the North.

    Relations with the North remained cold during her term, and Pyongyang pressed ahead with its nuclear programme, conducting several missile launches and nuclear weapons tests. Each incident was accompanied by a flare-up in tensions.

    Park’s government was also blamed for systemic lapses that led to the Sewol ferry tragedy in 2014, which she sought to fix.

    All of these factors added to the deep public animosity she faced during the corruption scandal, which in the end she was unable to survive.

Park Geun-hye: South Korea’s ex-leader jailed for 24 years for corruption

South Korea’s former President Park Geun-hye has been sentenced to 24 years in jail after she was found guilty of abuse of power and coercion.

The verdict was broadcast live and represents the culmination of a scandal which rocked the country, fuelling rage against political and business elites.

Park, who was also fined 18bn won (£12m, $17m), faced a string of corruption charges.

The former leader was not in court on Friday for the verdict.

She has boycotted her trial hearings and has previously accused the courts of being biased against her. She has also denied all wrongdoing and has said she will appeal her sentence.

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    Judge Kim Se-yoon said Park had shown “no sign of repentance” after causing “massive chaos” in the country.

    “We cannot help but sternly hold her accountable,” the judge said.

    The move by the authorities to allow Friday’s verdict to be broadcast live was unprecedented, but they cited extraordinary public interest in the case.

    What was she convicted of?

    Park was found guilty of 16 out of 18 charges, most of which related to bribery and coercion.

    The court ruled that she had colluded with her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure conglomerates such as electronics giant Samsung and retail chain Lotte to give millions of dollars to foundations run by Choi.

    She was also convicted of forcing companies to sign lucrative deals with firms owned by Choi and donate gifts to Choi and her daughter.

    In addition, Park was found guilty of leaking confidential presidential documents to Choi.

    What led to her downfall?

    A friendship lies at the heart of the undoing of South Korea’s first female president.

    Park and Choi were childhood friends and Choi swiftly became the leader’s most trusted confidante.

    But their relationship latterly came under intense public scrutiny and the charge is that Choi had undue influence over a nation’s affairs through her connection with Park.

    Choi was eventually found guilty of corruption, and sentenced to 20 years in prison earlier this year.

    After a prolonged series of hearings and months of street protests calling for her resignation, Park was finally removed from office in March 2017, making her the first democratically-elected president to be impeached.

    She was arrested shortly afterwards, and has been in detention ever since.

    Who else was caught up in this?

    Some of the biggest South Korean companies and their leaders have been drawn into the scandal, as well as numerous figures from the entertainment world and government servants.

    Samsung’s de facto leader Lee Jae-yong, also known as Jay Y Lee, was singled out in particular after details emerged that he had given a horse to Choi’s daughter Chung Yoo-ra, who is an equestrian.

    He was sentenced to jail, but only served five months before he was freed, when an appeals court reduced and suspended his sentence.

    Ms Chung has also faced scrutiny, and was extradited from Denmark to South Korea last year to face questioning.

    Is this unusual in South Korea?

    Park, the country’s first female leader, was also the first democratically-elected president to be impeached.

    But she is not the only former president to have been arrested for corruption.

    • Why South Korea’s corruption scandal is nothing new

      Last month former leader Lee Myung-bak was charged with corruption over allegations he took bribes while in office.

      Two others, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were convicted for treason and corruption in the 1990s.

      In 2009, former president Roh Moo-hyun killed himself while he was under investigation for corruption.

      What does the verdict mean for the country?

      Park’s sentencing has drawn a line under what has been one of the biggest corruption scandals to rock South Korea in recent years.

      The scandal has created greater awareness and criticism of the longstanding close ties between the political elite and chaebols, or family-run conglomerates which dominate South Korea’s economy.

      It has also fuelled the rise of the liberal Moon Jae-in, Park’s previous political opponent who eventually replaced her as president after campaigning on a platform of a clean government.

South Korea’s presidential scandal

In 2016, South Korea saw the start of a massive corruption scandal involving its political and business elite that brought down its first female president Park Geun-hye.

The scandal, which continues to ripple through South Korean society, generated huge protests.

It has centred on Park’s relationship with an old friend, Choi Soon-sil, and has brought to the surface allegations of cult activities, influence-peddling and leaks of classified information.

What is the relationship at the heart of the scandal?

In 1974, Park Geun-hye’s mother was killed by a North Korean assassin.

Park, then aged 22, became a stand-in first lady for her widowed father, then-military leader Park Chung-hee.

She got to know Choi Tae-min, a pseudo-Christian cult leader dubbed “the Korean Rasputin”.

He became a close family friend and Park’s mentor, while also amassing considerable wealth and power.

Park’s father was assassinated in 1979. By this point she was firm friends with Mr Choi’s daughter, Choi Soon-sil, who later became her adviser when Park became president.

Their critics believe Choi perpetuated her father’s habits, and some media reports suggested that Ms Park held shamanist rituals at the presidential compound under Choi’s influence, which Park denied.

  • The friendship behind South Korea’s presidential crisis

    Why did the friendship become problematic?

    In February 2018, Choi was sentenced to 20 years in jail for corruption, influence-peddling and abuse of power. She was earlier found guilty of using her position to solicit favours for her daughter.

    Choi was found to have had used her presidential connections to pressure conglomerates – including electronics giant Samsung – for millions of dollars in donations to two non-profit foundations she controlled.

    Park meanwhile has been accused of colluding with Choi, and giving her unauthorised access to state documents.

    Ms Park was officially ousted in March 2017, following parliament’s decision to impeach her in December. She was the country’s first democratically-elected president to be forced from office.

    After losing her presidential immunity, she was charged with bribery, abusing state power and leaking state secrets.

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      Both women denied wrongdoing in their trials.

      They had earlier apologised, but it was unclear exactly what they were apologising for.

      Choi said she had committed an “unpardonable crime”, though her lawyer said this was not a legal admission of guilt.

      Park admitted she had committed lapses, and apologised to the public for causing “national concern”.

      So how is Samsung involved?

      The firm was one of eight that has admitted making payments to the foundation, but denied it did so in return for any favours.

      In August 2017, Samsung’s de facto head, Lee Jae-yong, was jailed for five years for bribery and embezzlement. He was later freed in February after an appeals court reduced and suspended his sentence.

      Lee was convicted over payments of 43bn won ($36.4m; £30.3m) made to Choi’s foundations, as well as for giving a horse and several million dollars to assist the equestrian career of Choi’s daughter.

      Prosecutors had accused Lee of approving these payments and gifts in order to win government support for a major restructuring of Samsung.

      The 2015 merger of two Samsung units, which paved the way for Lee to become the eventual head of South Korea’s largest conglomerate, sparked controversy at that time.

      While Lee did not dispute that the payments were made, he maintained during his trial that he was not involved in the decisions and denied that he sought government favours.

      Lee was also found guilty of hiding assets overseas, concealing criminal proceeds, and perjury.

      Who is Samsung’s Lee Jae-yong?

      Is anyone else involved?

      A host of other players have either been implicated, investigated or jailed in connection with the wide-reaching scandal.

      These include Samsung executives, various figures in the entertainment world, a former minister, presidential aides, university officials and former associates.

      One of them is Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, a former national equestrian and recipient of Samsung’s gift horse.

      Choi was convicted for influencing officials at Ms Chung’s university to admit her daughter and give her grades for papers or exams she never took.

      Prosecutors say Ms Chung was involved in or had knowledge of several of her mother’s crimes, but she has denied it.

      She was extradited to South Korea from Denmark in early 2017, but has not been detained.

      How has the scandal affected South Korean society?

      Since it began the whole affair prompted numerous mass protests in South Korea, many of which called for Park to step down.

      It fuelled discontent against the government, the political elite and family-run conglomerates which dominate South Korea’s economy.

      It also propelled the liberal Moon Jae-in, who campaigned on a platform of a clean government, into power after Park.

      • How identity politics fuelled South Korean scandal

        Though Choi and Lee have been convicted, much of the attention has still been focused on Park.

        For many South Koreans, the former president who has been at the centre of one of the country’s biggest scandals still has a lot to answer for.

#MeToo movement takes hold in South Korea

Young women in South Korea are fighting for a new future. The #MeToo movement which has highlighted sexual harassment and abuse around the world has taken a surprising hold in this socially conservative country.

Allegations which would once have been brushed aside have brought down some of the most prominent men in power, and women are coming forward to confront social norms that have silenced them for decades.

But can it last in a culture which often brands feminism as a dirty word?

Just last month singer Son Naeun of the popular group Apink was forced to defend a picture on Instagram of her holding a phone case which simply read “Girls can do anything.” She was accused of “promoting feminism” and deleted her post.

And even after months of abuse revelations, those who speak up risk derision and suspicion.

Skip Twitter post 2 by @allyjung

"My daughter- I hope that you will never ever have to shed the tears of pain that I shed for so many years. I was so young, so in pain and desperately tried to tell the world what I was going through…but everyone said it was such a shameful thing and forced me to keep silence."

— Hawon Jung (@allyjung) March 23, 2018


End of Twitter post 2 by @allyjung

It’s worth noting that where this event took place – Gwangwhamun Plaza in Seoul – is the same place where thousands gathered for the mass candlelight demonstrations against the now-ousted president Park Geun-hye last year. South Koreans know the power of protest. They have seen it topple a president.

But can it change an entire culture?

The current administration has said it plans to extend the statute to limitations of power-based sexual abuse cases, and it has pledged to set up a process for victims to report sexual abuse anonymously.

Most women so far have been using an anonymous app called Blind to report abuse. At one point the company said there were around 500 posts a day.

However, President Moon Jae-in noted as he addressed the #MeToo movement that South Korea “cannot solve this through laws alone and we need to change our culture and attitude”.

Prof Joo Hee Lee, who teaches sociology at the all-female EWHA University, agrees.

“I think, most of all, the corporate culture should be changed. The South Korean corporate culture is characterised by an old boys’ network – very closed relations. They’ve excluded women’s voices and other diverse voices from management. So that must be corrected.”

The legal system can also make it difficult for women’s claims of abuse to be heard.

Lee Eun-eui took on the corporate giant Samsung Electro Mechanics after it failed to listen to her claims of abuse.

She reported it to human resources, only to find herself an outcast. At first she was given no work, then she was moved to a different department. She was told that no-one would be on her side.

“In the beginning I said the bigger the fight the bigger the reward,” she told me. “While that is a motto I apply to all different aspects of my life, the actual lawsuit was a very lonely and difficult process.

“But after going through the hardship and when it all ended well, I realised it was a fight that I had to do.”

It took four years, but a court eventually ruled in her favour. She now has a new career as a lawyer helping other women with sex abuse cases.

“I’m very happy when people who come to get advice from me tell me that I am their role model. I think then that it was really worth fighting for.”

There are other signs of change. Members of the younger generation are more aware of their rights and are keen to be assertive. I visited a university jiu-jitsu class where I was greeted by young women keen to talk about the #Metoo movement and “girl power” as they called it.

Hee Won-sung, is studying law, and has also studied in the US. She can see a difference in attitude.

“I think it’s far more difficult for women who’ve only lived in Korea because there’s a traditional criteria that women have to be quiet and nice and kind and stuff, nowadays it’s changing but it needs to change more.”

Prof Lee feels that this new generation could provide a breakthrough.

“It’s not been easy for younger women to speak up and confront or challenge the older man in power, but nowadays I think the generations of younger women are very well educated, they are more assertive and most of all they don’t want to put up with older generations’ ways of doing things, so I can see some hope there.”

The new strength being shown by women in South Korea is not welcomed by all. Some have described it as “man hate” and say the movement is a witch hunt.

But there is a quiet determination, especially among young South Koreans, to change what they feel is wrong and sweep away the pillars of this once patriarchal society.