Outcry over acquittal of a teacher is spreading

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Outcry over acquittal of a teacher is spreading

An outcry by prosecutors erupted yesterday over the recent acquittal of a former schoolteacher who had been indicted on charges of pro-North Korea activities while lecturing his students.

Prosecutors said Judge Jin Hyeon-min of the Jeonju District Court took too much liberty in interpreting the nation’s laws during the trial of Kim Hyeong-cheol. Prosecutors said the acquittal violates legal precedents.

Kim was acquitted Wednesday of violating national security laws.

In 2008, prosecutors indicted Kim on charges of taking his students to a memorial for North Korean partisan guerrilla fighters and possessing and distributing pro-Pyongyang materials banned by the South Korean government in 2005.

Judge Jin said Kim did participate in the event and possess the banned materials, but his actions caused no serious harm.

Prosecutors angrily disputed this.

“Let’s say someone had set fire to a neighbor’s house, but the blaze was not strong. Does that mean that the arsonist is innocent?” a prosecutor asked.

Other prosecutors said the memorial is illegal because national security laws ban events that promote and praise the North Korean regime. Prosecutors said there had been a conviction in 2006 of an individual who had attended the memorial for North Korean partisan fighters and wrote an essay glorifying the event.

The case is currently pending at the Supreme Court.

Judge Jin also said the event had no significant social impact. Prosecutors, however, argued that Kim’s taking young students to the event is a serious crime.

Prosecutors also complained that Judge Jin’s verdict on Kim’s distribution of anti-state material is self-contradictory. While the court said the materials were anti-state, Kim was acquitted because he appeared to have no intention to deny the legitimacy of the South Korean government.

Prosecutors said the judgment goes against a Supreme Court precedent.

In 2004, the nation’s highest court convicted a man of possessing anti-state materials, noting that the mere awareness of the risk that the result may occur is sufficient for conviction.

Prosecutors said Kim’s action of posting the materials on an Internet site frequently used by students was a crime to be punished because his intention was clear.

The conservative Grand National Party also voiced concern about the acquittal.

“The more I think about it, the more it gets difficult to understand,” said GNP Chairman Chung Mong-joon. “A threat to liberal democracy does not come from a communist country but from the people’s hearts. Education is important and our minds are important.”

By Jeon Jin-bae, Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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