[Feature] One gov’t critic now feeling the brunt of “politics of vengeance and retribution”

Posted on : 2015-11-30 20:11 KST Modified on : 2015-11-30 20:11 KST
Man detained and charged with defaming president after scattering leaflets critical of the president
35 civic groups from across North Jeolla Province hold a press conference in front of Jeonbuk Provincial Police Agency
35 civic groups from across North Jeolla Province hold a press conference in front of Jeonbuk Provincial Police Agency

On Feb. 16, a poet named Byeon Hong-cheol, 46, and another individual, surnamed Shin, 34, scattered 40 or so leaflets in front of the Saenuri Party offices in Daegu with the message, “Is she trying to play up security risks in order to cover up rumors about a tryst with Chung Yoon-hoe? Compared to Park Geun-hye, Lee Myung-bak was a pretty good president!”

After throwing the leaflets on the floor and taking a picture of them, Byeon and Shin picked the leaflets back up and left. After that, they uploaded the picture to Facebook.

As the two explained - and as is implied by the fact that they removed the leaflets themselves - they were not trying to distribute fliers to passersby so much as to put on a kind of “performance” showing their criticism of President Park Geun-hye.

Byeon and Shin thought they had collected all of the leaflets, but some of them were blown away by the wind. A parking attendant found one of the leaflets nearby and reported it to the police. The Daegu Suseong Police Department launched an investigation.

The police determined that Byeon had been given the leaflets by Park Seong-su, 42, an environmental activist who lives in Gunsan, a city in North Jeolla Province. While Park and Byeon lived in different parts of the country, they had apparently gotten to know each other through their environmental activism.

On Mar. 12, the police raided Park’s house, the shop that printed the leaflets, Byeon’s house, and Hantijae, a publisher run by Byeon’s wife, Oh Eun-ji, 44.

 criticizing the police for suppressing freedom of expression
criticizing the police for suppressing freedom of expression

Park and Byeon protested that the investigation had gone too far. When the Suseong Police Department ordered Park to appear for questioning, he sent dog food instead. Park was protesting how the police seemed to be the “hounds of political power.”

Park went from Gunsan to Daegu and scattered dog food in front of the Suseong Police Department. He also brought dog food to the entrance of the Daegu Metropolitan Police Agency and held a press conference at which he mourned the death of a democratic police force and protested the government crackdown on the leaflets.

On Apr. 28, Park was “resisting” the police investigation with dog food in front of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in the Seocho district of Seoul, when he was arrested for violating the Assembly and Demonstration Act.

During a press conference in which Park denounced the prosecutors for being responsible for playing up security concerns over the leaflets, he barked like a dog three times to protest public servants who carried out their duties, as he said, the way a “dog wags its tail.” At that, an employee of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office arrested him on the spot.

Park was released after being questioned at the Seocho Police Department, near the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, only to be immediately arrested once more on the charge of defaming President Park. Police officers from the Suseong Police Department were waiting at the front entrance of Seocho Police Department with a warrant for his arrest, and they escorted him to the Suseong Police Department.

On Apr. 30, a court issued a warrant for Park’s detention on charges of defamation according to the criminal code as well as defamation according to the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection.

On May 11, Park was officially charged and put in jail. Byeon and Shin, who had scattered the leaflets, were booked without detention, and their cases were brought to court.

Legally speaking, the police can open a case on defamation, book the suspect, and even indict them, even if the victim does not file a complaint. Practically speaking, however, such investigations do not take place without such a complaint.

Neither President Park nor Chung filed a complaint against Park Seong-su for making the leaflets.

On May 7, the Daegu Association of Lawyers, under President Lee Jae-dong, decided to take on Park’s case pro bono. The association expressed concerns that the prosecution was “infringing the freedom to criticize, which is a basic right in democratic societies.”

The lawyers who took on Park’s defense were Kim In-suk, Lee Seung-ik, Ryu Je-mo, and Kim Mi-jo.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that President Park’s reputation had been defamed by various statements made by Park Seong-su. These statements included one on the flyer (“Is she trying to play up security risks in order to cover up rumors about an affair with Chung Yoon-hoe?”) and one on his Facebook page (“She won’t stop pulling these dirty tricks to hush up rumors about an affair with Chung Yoon-hoe”).

“Rather than making a factual claim, Park Seong-su was only expressing a critical opinion of the president‘s job performance. Even if he was making a factual claim, it would still not be defamation,” Park’s lawyers said in response.

During the first trial, the defendant usually spends two months in jail. When necessary the period of detention can be extended up to two times, for two months each time. Thus, the defendant can be detained for a maximum of six months while he or she is being tried by the district court.

Park‘s detention period was extended two times on the authority of Hon. Kim Tae-gyu, a judge who handles criminal cases at the Daegu District Court. This meant that Park was kept in detention for six months while he was being tried. The detention period lasted until Nov. 10.

The period of detention for the charge of defamation came to an end on Nov. 10, but Park is still behind bars. The reason is that Park was indicted again on a different charge while his defamation trial was underway.

On July 16, the prosecutors charged Park with violating the Assembly and Demonstration Act during the press conference he held in front of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office on Apr. 28. The detention warrant was reviewed on Judge Kim‘s authority, and a second detention warrant for Park was issued on Oct. 20.

As a result, Park is being tried from behind bars for the seventh month in a row.

On June 15, Kim rejected Park’s request to be released on bail, noting “concern that he might run away.”

On June 6, Kim sentenced Choi Chang-jin, 34, to six months in jail for obstructing public business and put him into legal detention. Choi had been booked without detention on the charge of assaulting a police officer at the construction site of an electricity transmission tower in Sampyeong Village, Gakbuk Township, Cheongdo County, North Gyeongsang Province.

While around 20 activists are being tried on similar charges, Choi was the only one to be put into legal detention.

On Oct. 15, Choi was found not guilty in an appeals case heard by the first division of criminal at the Daegu District Court, with Hon. Lee Yeong-hwa presiding.

“We thought it was very unusual for the police to launch an investigation in a defamation case even though the victim had not filed a complaint, for the defendant to be put in detention, and for his request for bail to be rejected. It’s not common to be detained in a defamation case and to spend seven months in jail during your first trial,” said Kim In-suk, one of the lawyers representing Park.

During the final hearing in the case, which opened on Nov. 24 at Daegu District Court, Park Sun-bae, the prosecuting attorney, asked the court to sentence Park to three years in prison.

The sentences requested for Byeon and Shin were one year and 10 months, respectively.

Park’s verdict will be given on Dec. 22.

“It’s sad how Park looks skinnier every time I see him in the courthouse. It’s a shame that I haven‘t been able to squeeze his hand at all, even though we’re both sitting in the dock,” said Byeon, who is a defendant along with Park but is not in detention.

“I was getting worried about how much he must be suffering, but he surprised me a little by boldly saying what he wanted to say in the courthouse.”

This is what Park said in his final defense on Nov. 24.

“The laughter died on my lips. I couldn’t keep down my horror at the fact that a trial that could have happened under the Yushin regime in the 1970s is taking place in the year 2015 in the Republic of Korea, one of the world’s 10 strongest economies.”

“If they were going to do all this, they should have just executed me as soon as they arrested me. I have no idea why they’re wasting their time on this trial. I’m sorry to say it, but I keep getting confused about whether this is a court of law or a Blue House cabinet meeting.”

“I’ve been tried several times in my life, but this is the first trial that has been this unbelievable,” Park said. In 2012, he was charged with obstructing public business during a protest against the construction of a naval base in Gangjeong Village, Jeju Island, but he was not detained during the trial.

“When people talk about a smear on the national reputation, this is what they mean. But as if that wasn’t enough, I was put in jail, and my trial is still going on seven months later. I’m not afraid of standing here today, but I am ashamed. I’m very ashamed to be a citizen of the Republic of Korea.

"The government of Park Geun-hye is run by a group of people who thoroughly implement politics of vengeance and retribution. When there are people whose opinion differs from their own, they crush them, even if it‘s the floor leader of their own party."

"Over the past seven months, I’ve come to think that this trial is a microcosm of the Park government. Your Honor, Mencius once said that ‘a man must not be without shame, for the shame of being without shame is shamelessness indeed.’ I would like you to look back and reflect on the past seven months of this trial. That is all."

By Kim Il-woo, Daegu correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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