Intellectuals around country demand reform of S. Korean prosecutors

Posted on : 2019-09-28 08:14 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Academics rally in Busan City Council to release joint manifesto
Professors and researchers gather at the Busan City Council to demand the reform of South Korea’s prosecutors on Sept. 26.
Professors and researchers gather at the Busan City Council to demand the reform of South Korea’s prosecutors on Sept. 26.

“The prosecutors’ one-sided rule of law is a threat to democracy,” said university professors, lecturers, and researchers from around South Korea in a manifesto calling for the reform of South Korea’s public prosecutors. Cultural figures, educators, and ordinary citizens from Gwangju and South Jeolla Province have responded to the scandal over the appointment of Cho Kuk as Minister of Justice by making a public call for reform of the prosecutors and the media.

On Sept. 26, professors and researchers from universities both in South Korea and abroad held a press conference at the Busan City Council, where they released a manifesto declaring that reform of the prosecutors ought to be Korea’s first order of business.

“Internal reform of the prosecutors must be carried out as soon as possible. The currently pending bill to establish a bureau for investigating crimes by high-ranking officials, which has already been fast-tracked in the National Assembly, needs to be quickly passed. We must move swiftly to rebalance the investigatory authority of the prosecutors and the police by ending the prosecutors’ monopoly on investigations, indictments, and warrant requests,” the group said in their manifesto.

“The key problem in the current situation is not what Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s family did but the prosecutors themselves. The problem is a judicial system that was framed around the prosecutors. Given their monopoly on the right to investigate and indict, the prosecutors have absolute control over criminal justice. That also explains the prosecutors’ past as loyal minions of authoritarian governments, including military dictatorships. That system must be broken down if we’re to achieve a true democracy,” the manifesto said.

“Justice Minister Cho Kuk was chosen to be a tool for the historic task of prosecutorial reform. If another dedicated and talented person were the justice minister, we would support them just the same. Our position as researchers is simply that the prosecutorial system must be overhauled, and we ask that our position not be misrepresented.”

The group published their manifesto about prosecutorial reform on social media on Sept. 21 and have been circulating a petition for signatures since then. The campaign was launched by professors in Busan, but since then university professors from around the country have joined in, bringing the total of signatures to some 6,120 by 5 pm on Sept. 25. The group has limited the campaign to university professors, lecturers, and researchers, and as of Thursday had confirmed 4,090 names on the list.

“Based on how fast we’ve been collecting signatures, we think quite a few more will be added. We’ll be releasing the final tally and names at a press conference in Seoul,” said Kim Dong-gyu, a professor at Tongmyong University.

Writers hold press conference in Gwangju’s May 18 Democracy Square

The board of advisors of the Gwangju and South Jeolla Writers’ Association, along with other local artists and NGOs, held a press conference at the May 18 Democracy Square on Geumnam Street in Gwangju’s Dong District. “Indications of mass hysteria were evident during Cho Kuk’s appointment process. The people of Korea believe that achieving social justice is fundamentally impossible without reforming the prosecutors and the press,” the group said.

A petition organized by the group collected some 7,800 signatures from members of the arts and culture community, religious figures, educators, professional workers, and others in Gwangju, as well as Koreans living overseas.

“It’s been frightening for Koreans to see the prosecutors try to dig up dirt on Cho Kuk and his family during their investigation. Reform of the prosecutors must be achieved on behalf of the countless [principles of] justice and human rights that the prosecutors have ignored,” the group said.

“It’s deplorable and absurd to see not only the far-right media but also the supposedly progressive media being manipulated like this. The government needs to take strong action to reform the media by taking measures to prevent and punish fake news.”

By Kim Yeong-dong, Busan correspondent, and Jung Dae-ha, Gwangju correspondent

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