Most of the more than 80 plaintiffs in a damages suit against 16 Japanese companies over wartime labor on Monday appealed a recent South Korean district court ruling that dismissed their case.
Some of the plaintiffs and their supporters also held a gathering outside the Seoul court the same day to denounce the June 7 ruling and call for the case's presiding judge to be impeached.
The Seoul Central District Court dismissed the suit brought by 85 plaintiffs and their bereaved families who say they were made to work for the Japanese companies during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Presiding Judge Kim Yang Ho said that while the plaintiffs have not lost their right to claim damages as individuals under a 1965 claims settlement agreement between the two countries, such a right cannot be exercised through lawsuits.
The ruling was contrary to a South Korean Supreme Court ruling in October 2018 that ordered Nippon Steel Corp. to compensate South Korean plaintiffs for wartime forced labor.
It was also in line with the Japanese government's position that the issue of compensation was resolved "finally and completely" by the bilateral agreement, under which Japan provided South Korea with $300 million in grants and $200 million in loans.
"We had to make an appeal as we could not accept the district court ruling," Kang Gil, one of the lawyers that support the plaintiffs, said at a press conference in Seoul.
Of the 85 plaintiffs, 75 have so far appealed the ruling, according to Kang.
Meanwhile, a petition on the website of the office of President Moon Jae In calling for the judge's impeachment has garnered support from over 300,000 people, far above the 200,000 threshold that would mandate a response from the president's office.
Ties between South Korea and Japan have soured since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling, with court proceedings under way to sell off the Japanese steelmaker's assets in South Korea to compensate the plaintiffs in the case.