[FOUNTAIN]Past police practices leave lasting tarnish

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[FOUNTAIN]Past police practices leave lasting tarnish

In the 1980s, Koreans used to call the National Security Law a “rice wine law.” When people got drunk in bars and made comments criticizing the government, they would be punished by the National Security Law. In those gloomy days, if you dared to say while under the influence of alcohol, “What’s wrong with communism?” or “I wish we had a new government,” you would be taken away in a black sedan.
The agency in charge of surveillance was the security police. Their influence peaked in the early 1980s when the military regime was suffering from a lack of legitimacy.
The military authorities had given them more power, justifying that it was in response to an “increase of anti-nation criminals, such as radical leftists.”
Until the 1970s, the operations of the security police was kept under wraps even within the police. They even earned a dismal nickname of “secret police.”
The base of their activities was the so-called “branches.” There were dozens of such branches around the country, named after locations such as the Namyeong-dong branch, Hongje-dong branch and Okin-dong branch. Security police unlawfully tortured citizens and fabricated facts.
There is a sad anecdote that a mother of a student activist received a letter from the “Namyeong-dong Office of Anti-Communism Investigation” one day and searched every street of Seoul to find it.
The security police were born from the Department of Investigation for Anti-communism and Counter-espionage Activities under the Public Security Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. When the National Police Headquarters was reorganized as the National Police Agency in 1991, the security police were placed under the Security Bureau to this date.
The security police and the Namyeong-dong branch were exposed by the case of Park Jong-cheol, who was tortured to death. Ever since, countless victims of the branch have testified about the police and a torture specialist, Inspector Lee Geun-an.
Lawyer Park Won-sun criticized the investigation practice of the security police in 1992, alleging that “the existence of an investigation agency and secret rooms isolated from outside and shrouded with secrecy proves that the suspects sustained a miserable struggle in the absence of legal protection.”
The National Police Agency has closed down the Namyeong-dong branch and considers changing the name of the Security Bureau to the “Constitution Protection Bureau” or “National Security Bureau.” The police wants to shed the negative images of the past. It is interesting how the police will recover their fallen honor.

by Ko Dae-hoon

The writer is a deputy city news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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