[EDITORILAS]This Outrage in a Nation of Laws

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[EDITORILAS]This Outrage in a Nation of Laws

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, a major umbrella labor group, and the Catholic Church are strongly condemning the government for imprisoning Dan Byung-ho, the trade union's leader, and breaking its promise to release him. The labor group is threatening to wage an all-out war against the administration of President Kim Dae-jung by staging anti-government rallies, casting a dark cloud over the relationship between labor and government. The Catholic Priests' Association for Justice, a group of progressive Catholic clergy, which mediated discussions between the government and Mr. Dan, is also calling on the administration to "repent."

The labor group and the Catholic Church argue that before the union leader surrendered to police on Aug. 2, after 35 days of being holed up at Myongdong Cathedral in downtown Seoul, the Blue House promised not to hold him responsible for the labor unrest. The presidential office pledged, they said, that if Mr. Dan serves just two months of a remaining prison term, the state prosecution would not indict him on charges of masterminding illegal rallies and strikes. They contend the government has betrayed them. The police confined Mr. Dan just days before his prison term was to expire last Wednesday.

We cannot understand how such a thing could happen in a democratic society under the rule of law. Priests negotiating with the government over whether to punish a criminal is an outrage. Moreover, it is wrong for the clergy to talk with the Blue House, not with law enforcement authorities - police and public prosecutors.

The Blue House is also to blame. If presidential aides promised leniency to a criminal suspect, they abused their authority. To think the Blue House has given the perception that nothing happens without its authority is not too far-fetched.

Strangely enough, the government has remained silent on the claim by the union and the priests. No one has come forward to explain the matter or take responsibility for it. In a country ruled by law, there can never be such a negotiation over criminal punishment. The government must disclose what was negotiated over Mr. Dan's voluntary surrender and take the responsibility for any wrongdoing during the process.
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