SEOUL, March 20 (UPI) -- The absence of a Japanese national accused of a hate crime at Seoul Criminal District Court was palpable on Wednesday, when he was scheduled to appear before a South Korean judge.
Nobuyuki Suzuki, a Japanese right-wing activist who has been charged with defamation after tying a stake to the comfort women statue outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul, has been sought for questioning by South Korean prosecutors since 2012.
The defendant, who placed a similar wooden post that read "Takeshima is Japanese land" outside the War and Women's Human Rights Museum in Seoul seven years ago, has been asked 15 times to appear before a South Korean judge. He has yet to comply with Korean legal authorities.
Takeshima, or Dokdo, are disputed islets that lie between the two countries.
On Wednesday, Suzuki's interpreter made a brief appearance, but quickly left when the defendant did not show up at the courtroom.
Suzuki's activities have been dubbed an act of "terror" in the South. He is also believed to be behind a mysterious package, sent to a home for former Korean sex slaves that included an "offensive" depiction of a comfort woman -- teenage girls forced to serve in wartime brothels.
The South Korean court, presided over by chief judge Lee Sang-ju, said the trial of the Japanese defendant is taking place in South Korea because justice knows no borders.
"Criminal acts that defend incidents like the [forced mobilization] of comfort women, which denied the dignity of human beings, or other crimes that annihilate humanity, and [subsequently] give rise to terrible tragedies -- punishment for such acts should know no borders," Lee said.
The case made little progress after Suzuki was charged in 2013. Renewed efforts under the current administration of President Moon Jae-in to extradite Suzuki began in March 2018. According to the South Korean prosecution on Wednesday, the Japanese government is still "considering the case."
Han Gyeong-hui, secretary general of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance, an activist group in Seoul asking Japan to take responsibility for past war crimes, told UPI that Suzuki "on principle" should appear before the South Korean court.
Han also said anti-comfort women views in Japan are the result of a misunderstanding of history, but added the case of Suzuki, a private citizen, should be evaluated separately from Japanese government policy.
Han organizes a weekly demonstration outside the old Japanese embassy compound, where on Wednesday former comfort woman Lee Yong-soo rallied the crowd of protesters.
Lee, who caused a stir in Japan when she and visiting U.S. President Donald Trump embraced during his South Korea trip, said Wednesday the legacy of comfort women victimizes all of Korea.
"All of South Korea are victimized," Lee said. "We have done nothing wrong."
Lee, who has said she was kidnapped when she was 16 and taken to a wartime rape station outside Korea, then beaten and stabbed with a knife before being sexually assaulted multiple times a day, said her activism was making her younger.
"I plan to live to be 200," Lee told the energized crowd. "This problem will only work itself out when [Japanese Prime Minister] Shinzo Abe apologizes."
The activist, one of the few remaining survivors of wartime sex slavery, said her compatriots "must not die until an apology is issued."
Japanese university students from Tokyo who oppose Abe's bid to amend Japan's current constitution also took part in the rally on Wednesday.
"Colonialism is the root of war," they told the South Korean protesters through an interpreter. "Japanese society must change."
The students had recently visited with comfort women at a nursing home. They shared stories of their encounter.
"We cried for the grandmothers," the students said. "But the grandmothers told us, 'You're not bad people. It's the [Japanese] government'."