&#91NOTEBOOK&#93Removing a stain

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[NOTEBOOK]Removing a stain

Strange things have been going on for more than a month. I’m speaking of the contradictions in the way authorities are handling Hanchongryun, the subversive and outlaw student organization that draws its membership from more than 200 colleges around the country. On one side is the justice minister talking about possibly taking the organizations’ members off the wanted list. Meanwhile, the prosecutor general and the country’s police chief are saying there will be no such leniency. Now these are people who should not be on either side of a legal discussion like this.
What caused the whole problem was President Roh Moo-hyun’s comment in mid-March. He said Hanchongryun should not be considered a subversive organization forever. Society is changing and changes must be accepted, he said.
Indeed, a lot has changed since 1998, when the group, with its pro-North, anti-U.S. ideology, was branded a subversive organization. The leaders of the two Koreas have met, and there are exchanges across the border. Discussions about amending or scrapping altogether the anti-communist National Security Act are nothing new. What used to be considered communist leanings have come to be tolerated. So there is obvious justification in reviewing the legitimacy of Hanchongryun, particularly in light of the new world in which we are living. Mr. Roh’s remark was no doubt made in that vein.
The problem then is with the behavior of the authorities who should be enforcing the law. As we see Hanchongryun’s position in society is obviously in transition, the first condition for a sound closure in the debate is that the process should not be a defective one with respect to the law or in the perception of the public.
There should be equitable consideration relative to the rest of the Hanchongryun members and other criminals and outlaw organizations. And the responsibility for ensuring that step rests with judicial authorities.
We ought to look at the real nature of Hanchongryun. It has been the core of the student movement since 1993 and it produced at one point nearly 300 people on the run from the law. There are now 179 people associated with the group wanted by authorities. It was behind the August 1996 demonstration at Yonsei University in which college buildings were set on fire. It was also the force behind the beating death in June 1997 by Hanyang University students of a factory worker who they claimed was a spy. There is no lack of evidence for Hanchongryun’s radical and violent nature.
We cannot simply choose to forget something that is illegal by saying the situation has changed. Thus, the members must be tracked down and brought to justice under the law. Without taking proper steps, Hanchongryun will only go down in history as another stain on our past.


by Kim Seok-hyun

The writer is crime news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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