[OUTLOOK]Ignoring law will result in collapseIs law just a formality? Let’s say it’s a misjudgment that the government insisted on continuing assistance to the North although the communist country, which is technically at war with us, is developing nuclear arms that would make our conventional weapons useless. However, the current situation surrounding a scandal over espionage by student activists-turned-politicians is a serious threat to our constitution.
Some politicians who were engaged in the democratic movement as college students in the 1980s formed a private group called “Ilsimhwe.” If a member of this group joined North Korea’s Workers Party, was sponsored by the North and leaked confidential information from South Korea to the North for a decade, traveling in the United States, China and North Korea, that is without a doubt a felony that violates the law. If a senior member of a party that has a wide network of people in the Blue House and core figures of the governing party were involved, very sensitive confidential information could have been delivered to the North. The prosecution and the National Intelligence Agency, whose jobs are to investigate cases that threaten the public safety, have a duty to thoroughly investigate those involved in the espionage case and to let the public know the results of the investigation.
However, the head of the intelligence agency was made to step down when he was pouring all his efforts into the investigation, saying, “All staff are investigating the scandal as if their positions depended on it.” The former activists raised the suspicion that the intelligence agency leaked the scandal to vitalize the organization and to emphasize its importance. That is similar to saying that the organization should stop investigating the case. The reason cited was that all former student activists were dishonorably being called spies. This shows how powerful these people are in office. Resistance against the intelligence agency’s investigation stems from the narrow-minded idea that the honor of former student activists is more important than the interests of all citizens. The right way to protect the honor of the innocent is to investigate the case and to find out exactly who was involved.
This administration has a great tolerance for cases threatening public safety. It said the national security law should be packed up and sent to a museum. It ordered a prosecutor general not to arrest Professor Kang Cheong-koo on charges of violating the national security law by saying the Korean War was for the unification of the county. Now, rumors swirl that the administration fired the top official overseeing the investigation of the espionage scandal because it did not want the case to be examined. A country’s confidential information is sensitive for the country’s safety, and thus in the interest of all citizens. If a person was given an order to leak such information by North Korea and did so, that is certainly treachery. The president, as the chief to manage the country, is also the chief to ensure the investigation of such cases. The president should declare such espionage treachery and should order an agency to make a thorough investigation. That is the duty of the president who vowed to abide by the Constitution, to protect the country and to perform his job for the freedom and well-being of the people.
When East Germany was about to collapse, the communist country’s intelligence and security service, the Stasi, infiltrated spies into West Germany’s political, economic, academic and religious sectors. The spy agency disturbed people who criticized the East German regime and divided public opinion in West Germany. After signing a basic treaty, West Germany sternly responded to crimes threatening national security. After the reunification, an investigation of the people involved in the spying was carried out fully and those involved were punished. In doing so, political calculation was not in effect, unlike the case in South Korea. Germany’s way was the right measure to protect a liberal democratic system.
Meanwhile, what is South Korea doing? Since this administration took office, prosecutors who investigated people threatening public safety have been ruled out for promotions and agencies doing the same job have been downsized. When protecting public safety is treated as something unnecessary, a country’s safety net will have holes. It is worrisome that the current situation is going in that direction in terms of public safety.
If laws to sustain a country and to protect the safety and survival of its people are not abided by, the country will inevitably collapse. If people in power feel such laws are unnecessary and irritating, the country’s systems and order cannot be sustained and its people cannot be protected. Such leaders will lose the ground to stand on if their country falls.
* The writer is a lawyer and an executive director for public information at the Korean Bar Association. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ha Chang-woo