Entertainment figures slam police and press for actor Lee Sun-kyun's death

Director Bong Joon-ho reads off a printed statement entitled "Statement on the Death of Actor Lee Sun-kyun, by Cultural and Artistic Figures," at the Korea Press Center in Jung District, central Seoul, on Friday. [YONHAP]

The police, press and parliament are all responsible for the death of the late “Parasite” actor Lee Sun-kyun, a conglomerate of entertainment industry professionals led by the famed film's director, Bong Joon-ho, said in a press conference on Friday.

Film director Bong, who was joined by fellow directors Lee Won-tae and Jang Hang-jun, actors Kim Eui-sung and Choi Duk-moon and singer Yoon Jong-shin, criticized the police and press for their treatment of celebrity crime and “unjust character assassination” during a press conference hosted by the Cultural and Artistic Professionals Conference (CAPC) at the Korea Press Center Friday.

In a statement, the organization urged the National Assembly to change the law regarding disclosing information regarding ongoing criminal cases and protecting human rights.

The CAPC is a newly formed association comprising 29 associations and guilds within the entertainment industry, including the Director’s Guild of Korea, the Busan International Film Festival, and Women in Film Korea.

Actor Lee Sun-kyun's funeral altar is set up at the Seoul National University Hospital's funeral home in Jongno District, central Seoul, on Dec. 27, 2023. [NEWS1]

“We ask if there were any unlawful responses to the media by the police’s public relations officer during Lee’s investigation,” said Bong at the Korea Press Center in Jung District, central Seoul, on Friday. “An inquiry into whether any unauthorized disclosures or improper responses occurred during the investigation needs to happen."

Lee, whose name was first leaked to the media during the police's internal investigation in October last year, was found dead in an apparent suicide in his car in Seongbuk District on Dec. 27, 2023. He had completed three rounds of police questioning between October and December, with the last questioning lasting 19 hours just three days before his death.

He had tested negative in both a simple reagent test and a lab-based test for drug use. The police have since denied any wrongdoing during its investigation process.

According to the police's internal regulations on informing the public about an ongoing investigation, police may not notify the press that a suspect is appearing for questioning, nor can the media photograph suspects appearing for questioning.

Center row from left, actor Kim Eui-sung, director Bong Joon-ho, singer Yoon Jong-shin and director Lee Won-tae attend the press conference on late actor Lee Sun-kyun's death at the Korea Press Center in Jung District, central Seoul, on Friday. [YONHAP]

The Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency, in a press conference where the commissioner of the agency, Kim Hee-joong spoke regarding Lee's investigation, said no official permit for press coverage of Lee’s appearances had been issued, but information such as the specific dates of Lee’s questioning had “somehow” been leaked and it had taken safety precautions beforehand.

“Whether individual investigators interacted with the media or answered questions from reporters regarding investigative matters needs to be clarified,” Bong demanded. “Despite the expectation that media cooperation should occur within legal boundaries, precautions to prevent the exposure of those involved failed to be taken. A clear investigation into whether these actions fall within the bounds of legality must occur.”

The group specifically called out the TV network KBS. KBS exclusively released the phone records between Lee and the employee of a bar where he had allegedly taken drugs on Nov. 24. Other media and the public alike have questioned the ethics of the report.

“Can it really be said that the reports were made for the public good, for the sake of people's rights to know, not to highlight the scandalous life of a celebrity?” said Yoon. “Can KBS truly swear on its reputation as a public media that it made the report on his private phone call for the good of the people? We urge all media outlets, including KBS, to promptly remove any content that does not align with the purpose of responsible reporting.”

The entertainment industry leaders gathered Friday also pinpointed and criticized the “abuses of yellow journalism,” including “certain YouTubers” who “spread unverified information or hastily sensationalize issues without sufficient investigation.”

Certain news outlets and YouTubers claiming to be reporters followed Lee’s family to their home and camped out in front of Seoul National University Hospital during the late actor’s funeral, to the point that Lee’s agency Hodu&U Entertainment had explicitly asked for such actions to stop.

Kim Hee-joong, commissioner of the Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency, speaks during a press conference after Lee Sun-kyun's death at the agency's headquarters in Incheon on Dec. 28, 2023. [NEWS1]

“Is there truly no way to address this atrocity once and for all?” asked Yoon.

“Even if the investigative procedures of the authorities are deemed legal, the government and the National Assembly must not remain silent on this tragic incident,” said Lee, addressing a more comprehensive need to improve the violation of entertainers’ rights during similar cases. “To prevent the violation of the principles on the suspects’ human rights and the public's right to know, and to ensure that investigative authorities do not apply or interpret the law arbitrarily, it is crucial to implement clear and effective legal enhancements.”

“We will exert our best efforts until satisfactory results are achieved regarding the above demands and questions,” said Choi in the closing remarks of the statement.

The CAPC will continue its activities by putting forward a bill to ensure that investigative authorities do not apply or interpret the law arbitrarily when investigating entertainment industry professionals.

Other celebrities have also expressed concern, although they did not attend Friday's event.

Entertainment Park Myung-soo said that criminal suspects' names should not be released to prevent any unwarranted witch hunt.

“Revealing the identity of those being investigated when the results of the investigation or charges have not come out officially could bring about much negative side-effects,” said Park. “Disclosing names of not only entertainers but also ordinary people can lead to witch hunts when the rights and wrongs have not been legally established.”

Actor Lee Ji-hoon called the Lee Sun-kyun scandal a “witch-hunt” in a social media post on Dec. 29 but deleted it soon after. Singer G-Dragon, who himself had been investigated by the police on suspected drug use before his case was closed, quietly commemorated Lee in a social media post following the actor’s death.

To find out more about Lee Sun-kyun, visit Celeb Confirmed

If you or someone you know is feeling emotionally distressed or struggling with thoughts of suicide, LifeLine Korea can be contacted at 1588-9191 or the Crisis Counseling Center at 1577-0199. The Seoul Global Center offers English-language counseling, contact 02-2075-4180 (+1) to arrange a session. Other international helplines can be found at