[EDITORIALS]No more pledgeThe Justice Ministry’s policy committee voted on Monday to abolish the pledge to abide by the law required when paroling or pardoning people convicted under the national security law. The decision is welcome in view of the changing attitude of the public about national security and its violators. At the same time, the move is also set to end the exhausting debate over the requirement.
The requirement was introduced in 1998, when the government abolished the pledge “to convert from communism.” Progressive critics have said the requirement violates freedom of thought and conscience guaranteed under the constitution. Conservatives said it is the minimum needed to safeguard the country’s democratic system. In April, the Constitutional Court ruled the requirement was constitutional and did not infringe on people’s freedom of conscience. But debate continued.
The requirement has been obsolete for some time. Former President Kim Dae-jung included 17 convicted people who refused to sign the pledge in the special pardon on March 1, 1999. Under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the Justice Ministry in March reviewed the possibility of scrapping it. Then, in the pardon of more than 1,400 security law violators in April, the ministry chose not to require the pledge. In the segment of the legal community that has been in the opposition, there has been persistent challenge to it. All it is is a piece of paper, these lawyers say, and it cannot be the basis for judging whether people will obey the law.
Times are changing, and it is no longer right to oppress anybody for his thoughts. When there is violence or other accompanying crimes, they can be punished under existing law. The government ought to prepare a more systematic guideline on pardons. Evaluation of pardon applications should be tightened to address concerns about possible negative consequences. There will be other ways to judge whether a person being released from jail will be a law-abiding member of society. And it should be checked so that indiscriminate pardons, that only hurt the authority of law enforcement, are stopped.