[EDITORIALS]Physical Detention Not Necessary

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[EDITORIALS]Physical Detention Not Necessary

The investigation of newspaper companies on charges of tax evasion reached its final stage Thursday as Seoul District Prosecutors issued detention warrants for five newspaper executives, including the president of a Seoul daily. One and a half months have passed since the National Tax Office accused 12 newspaper executives of tax evasion.

The Prosecutors office said the subjects for detention warrants selected were based on the amount of alleged tax evasion, the method and how much the suspect was involved.

However, according to the Criminal Procedure Act, anyone suspected of criminal charges is taken into custody when he does not have a fixed residence and when there is the possibility he would destroy evidence or that he might be a candidate to escape during the investigation.

Investigations or trials can be held without any physical detention and detention should be considered for the suspects only in exceptional cases. In view of the criminal code's definition of physical detention, the current investigation into alleged tax evasion by the media should be carried without physical detention of newspaper executives. More than anything else, there is no need to fear that the accused executives will escape during the investigation.

Also, there is no need to be concerned that the accused might destroy evidence, since prosecutors have accumulated massive amounts of material already and the executives have cooperated in the course of investigation. It is true that physical detention of those facing criminal charges has worked as an effective punishment and it has been a dire judicial reality that has oppressed the minds of the people. However, all this must change. Past customs should not be maintained since the National Human Rights Committee, a presidential body, will begin making changes in November. Investigating the accused through physical detention should be restricted to a few unavoidable cases such as vicious criminals or habitual offenders.

The principle of conducting an investigation and trial without physical detention should be maintained for the remainder of the criminal cases. Affirming this principle is a short cut to protecting human rights and putting some meaning into the new start being made by the National Human Rights Committee.

Organizations such as the International Press Institute and many sectors of the Korean society are harboring doubts that the recent tax probe of newspaper companies is another way of suppressing the press.

If the government sought the physical detention of newspaper executives after the accused were ruled guilty by the court, instead of insisting that the recent tax probes were done by the book, and that the detainment was a rightful execution of the law, the government may have been free from this suspicion.

As we have pointed out many times newspaper companies cannot be exceptions to law enforcement. The members of the press must be punished by the law if they have violated the law. However, special caution must be taken against the physical detention of suspects.

Physical detention of the accused before his sentence is ruled on by the court gives unspeakable pain and dishonor to not only the accused but also his families and colleagues, regardless of the social position of the accused. We expect this case to be a good example in recovering the principle of conducting investigation and trial without physical detention.

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