A South Korean court today handed out a suspended prison sentence for adultery to a popular actress who had been trying to overturn a law that criminalises extramarital affairs.
South Korea enacted its adultery law more than 50 years ago to protect women who then had few rights in a male-dominated society, but critics say now it is a draconian measure no longer fit for a country with an advanced civil and family court system.
Prosecutors had been seeking 18 months in jail for Ok So-ri who admitted to having an affair with a singer. The suburban Seoul court sentenced her to eight months in prison but she avoided jail because the sentence was suspended for two years.
A sombre Ok told reporters outside the courthouse she was not sure if she was going to appeal.
"I would like to say I'm sorry for stirring up such a controversy," she said.
In October, Ok lost a case she had brought to the country's Constitutional Court, which ruled against the actress and said society would be harmed if it overturned the law that can send a person to jail for up to two years for adultery.
Ok's lawyers said in a petition to that court: "The adultery law ... has degenerated into a means of revenge by the spouse, rather than a means of saving a marriage."
Ok said on her website she had no intention of seeking a criminal indictment for adultery against Park Chul, her former husband. Park, a radio talk show personality, has denied having an affair.
It is rare for courts to jail adulterers but that does not stop several thousand angry spouses from filing criminal complaints each year.
"The law is problematic in that it focuses only on the technical aspects of sexual intercourse and allows the government to intrude on the most private part of adult sexual life," said Lee Hye-kyung of the Minwoo women's rights group.
Critics have said a better compromise might be to allow spouses just to sue for compensation in civil court.
When South Korea enacted its adultery law in 1953, women had almost no recourse against a husband who had an affair. Back then, if a wife walked out on a marriage, she would often wind up alone and broke.Reuse content