Celebrity bullying scandals rock South Korea

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SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 03:  South Korean actor Kim Ji-Soo aka Jisoo attends the photocall for
Actor Kim Ji-Soo aka Jisoo attends the photocall for "Golden Goose Deluxe Brand" Venice Foundations Pop-Up Store Opening on August 3, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/WireImage)

In the last couple of weeks, bullying scandal after scandal has surfaced consecutively in South Korea, rocking the K-pop industry by exposing multiple high-profile celebrities and compelling their labels to issue statements to placate their angry fans (also to keep their jobs and endorsements).

Bullying is not unique to South Korea, but due to the nature and reputation of the country's entertainment industry, it has become a hotly debated topic. 

More than a dozen singers and actors have been implicated in such allegations, many of which accuse them of bullying classmates while they were in school. Some of the most high-profile celebrities that have faced accusations from alleged victims of bullying include K-pop artists Hwang Hyunjin from Stray Kids and MonstaX vocalist Yoo Kihyun, as well as actors Ji Soo and Jo Byung Gyu. 

However, some artists have apologised for their past behaviour, while others denied allegations against them and threatened legal action against people spreading false accusations.

Hyunjin and Ji Soo posted handwritten letters of apology for their actions, while Byung Gyu and Kihyun denied bullying people.

Read on for details of each these celebs' scandals:

Stray Kids' Hyunjin

Hwang Hyunjin of Stray Kids was accused of being verbally abusive in high school
Hwang Hyunjin of Stray Kids, photo courtesy of JYP Entertainment

Hwang Hyunjin was named by an anonymous social media user and accused of being verbally abusive towards the victim during their middle school years.

It sparked an investigation and interviews with the K-pop singer's former teachers and school mates by Hyunjin's label, JYP Entertainment.

The singer has since met his accuser and apologised in person, and his label has said in a statement that he will "take the time to self-reflect after halting all of his activities as a celebrity".

It also added: "He sincerely regrets and is self-reflecting on the fact that he hurt various people in middle school with his rough and unsuitable words."

Hyunjin has addressed the allegations personally in a handwritten apology on Instagram. "Whether it was intended or not, I don't think I can be forgiven at all for giving unforgettable pain to someone,'' he wrote.

Actor Ji Soo

Kim Ji Soo faced stunning allegations of sexual misconduct, womanising and bullying. According to Meaww, the actor filmed himself having ''intercourse with a middle schooler in a bathroom'', and ''forced male students to do him favours, even ejaculating on their faces.''

The actor posted a handwritten letter of apology on Instagram:

The letter is translated as follows:  

I sincerely apologize to the people who suffered because of me. There is no excuse for my past misconduct. They were things that cannot be forgiven.

As I began my acting career, I received an undeserved amount of interest from the public with my past enshrouded, and I think that’s how I ended up here today.

However, there was always a part of me inside that felt guilty about the past, and my regret, which came too late for me to turn things back, always brought me a great deal of anxiety. I always felt crushed by my dark past.

I want to express my deep atonement to the people who must have suffered for a long time while watching me go about my work as an actor, and I will reflect on and repent my past, which can never be washed away, for the rest of my life.

I am tormented and feel guilty about the fact that I have inflicted tremendous damage upon the network, producers, actors, and all of the staff who have been quietly working hard on the drama set [of “River Where the Moon Rises“]. I desperately hope that the drama does not see further damage because of me.

Upon my knees, I sincerely apologize to everyone who has been hurt by me.

Ji Soo has also since quit the drama that he was acting in, River Where The Moon Rises, and will enlist into the South Korean military in October. His label, KeyEast, issued an apology and stated that "Ji Soo will immediately stop all planned activities and dedicate his time to self-reflect."

Actor Jo Byung Gyu

Jo Byung Gyu, Uncanny Counter
Jo Byung Gyu in drama series Uncanny Counter.

Two netizens have accused actor Jo Byung Gyu (Uncanny Counter, Penthouse) of bullying in high school. The first victim shared memorabilia, photos and KakaoTalk messages, stating that Byung Gyu was verbally abusive and always tried to pick fights with the victim.

However, Byung Gyu's label HB Entertainment has denied all claims, and "officially requested a police investigation in order to hold the person responsible for spreading false information and the indiscriminate malicious comments that are posted through the online community.''

The second victim created an Instagram account specifically to denounce Byung Gyu of bullying when the actor was studying in Auckland, New Zealand.

The victim shared photos from high schools and detailed other instances of bullying encounters with the actor, but the Instagram account has since been deleted.

KBS2 announced on 22 February that it has suspended the production of Come Back Home, although it denied allegations of the suspension being related to the actor's bullying scandal.

The actor has since taken to Instagram in a post denying allegations and requesting for netizens to wait for the investigations to be complete before passing judgement.

Byung Gyu's statement was translated as follows:

When the first false post came up about me, I was so shocked that I froze with a sense of injustice. Even though we were contacted the very next day by the poster asking for lenience, it was difficult for me to get over the feeling of being wronged.

We agreed to be lenient, but more malicious posts came up after that, and I was taken aback at how people could use photos that had nothing to do with their words as “proof” that whatever they wrote was the truth. As false statements and rebuttals started to spread on the Internet, I felt a sense of disillusionment and doubt about the life I had led for 26 years [Korean age].

I have learned that the person who claimed to be a classmate of mine in New Zealand [online user “D”] had used a random photo without permission belonging to a different classmate. It seems like we did go to the same school, but we weren’t acquainted, and we have never gone to karaoke together, and it is also not true that I committed violence there. This person has now deleted their false post and is checking through an acquaintance whether lenient treatment is possible. I want to emphasize that their deleting the post and their apology is not the result of threatening treatment or intimidation.

It’s true that I liked to play soccer as a kid in elementary school, but it is not true that I kicked out other kids on the playing field by force or committed violence. [This is in reference to the post uploaded by “B.”] In the second semester of the third grade of elementary school, I transferred to Bucheon. I have also never once extorted money from others or rode a motorcycle.

I dreamed of being a soccer player and was a playful and happy-go-lucky student. Like everyone else, I had friends that I was close with and people that I was not friends with. I am aware that I cannot be free from the memories of those whom I didn’t know well. But when I was maliciously framed for things I didn’t do on the basis of one post and an unrelated photo, there was absolutely nothing I could do. For several days, I endured while trying to throw off thoughts that I should not think.

I was scared of writing vague posts that would make people judge me as right or wrong, so I deleted my account and posts. Why did I keep becoming the target of such volatile reports, and why did I have to explain myself each and every time? I was cautious about giving a response because I knew that my explanations could also become another arrow, another tool for others to fit into their imagined stories about me.

It’s hard for me to endure this situation in which I am being misunderstood for things I didn’t do just because of a photograph and a couple of paragraphs. I cannot respond one-by-one to all these anonymous false rumors and malicious comments. We have requested an investigation into all of it, so please be patient. Please.

MonstaX's Kihyun

Yoo Kihyun, courtesy of DramaWiki
Yoo Kihyun, courtesy of DramaWiki

MonstaX vocalist Yoo Kihyun was named for committing school violence and bullying by a former classmate. The classmate was one of Kihyun's victims from a group, and picked up the courage to expose Kihyun after all the bullying scandals started surfacing.

Kihyun's label Starship Entertainment made a statement on February 26, denying all the allegations by the victims and stated that they will be taking legal action against the accusers:

Hello, this is Starship Entertainment.

We are writing in regards to the recent rumors that have been ciruculating on online communities regarding one of our label’s artists, Kihyun. The rumors were from a long time ago and there were facts that we could not confirm. Due to this, it took us a little longer to figure out what direction to take and we apologize for the delay in our response.

Regarding the school violence rumors, the artist himself, school officials, alumni and other acquaintances directly confirmed the facts. All their testimonies confirm that Kihyun never participated in school violence. We have provided evidence of Kihyun’s student record book so that you may decide objectively.

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