July 22. That day
Human rights activist Park Rae-gun, who is in jail pending trial on charges of organizing a memorial demonstration for the sinking of the Sewol ferry, now faces another charge: defamation of President Park Geun-hye.
During the demonstration, Park Rae-gun is accused of saying, “There are allegations that President Park was taking drugs or getting Botox to beautify her skin. I’d love to confirm those allegations.” Park Rae-gun was referring to the seven hours when Park Geun-hye did not appear on Apr. 16, the day of the sinking.
Setting aside the question of whether Park Rae-gun’s remarks actually constitute defamation, it is truly bizarre to see the current government overreacting and overreaching in its attempt to prevent any mention of the Sewol tragedy.
The very fact that Park was arrested last month smacks of a “compulsory quarantine” aimed at stonewalling efforts to learn the truth about the Sewol tragedy. As the director of People Focused on Human Rights and a member of the standing operating committee for People’s Solidarity for the Promise of April 16, Park has joined bereaved Sewol families in taking the lead in these efforts.
After he organized the memorial demonstration, the police launched a compulsory investigation into charges that he instigated illegal and violent behavior, carrying out a raid and calling him in for questioning. While this was clear intimidation, Park assented to the questioning in good faith.
Since he did not flee and since there is no evidence for him to hide or destroy, the only conclusion is that he should not have been arrested. If any evidence were necessary, the pictures and video shot by the police during the demonstration ought to have been enough.
Despite this, the police and prosecutors put Park in jail three months after the demonstration was held. We cannot help but suspect that this was less from judicial necessity than from political necessity - the necessity of locking him up and muzzling him.
After Park’s arrest, a “collective statement” was released containing individual messages from 4,820 activists with civic groups and ordinary people calling for Park’s release. The statement is a protest against such barbaric and backward behavior. But apparently the prosecutors were unfazed, since they added defamation to the list of charges against Park.
This only increase suspicions about what could possibly be so embarrassing that the administration feels compelled to keep muzzling Park. The prosecutors also appear to be meting out harsh retribution on someone else’s behalf.
Even so, they cannot keep everyone quiet indefinitely. It is time to bring these pointless efforts to an end and to release Park.
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