Questioning the courts

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Questioning the courts


Judge Jin Hyeon-min of the Jeonju District Court decided to acquit a former schoolteacher, surnamed Kim, who had been indicted on charges of engaging in pro-North Korea activities while lecturing his students.

“Kim’s participation in the activity does not seem to deny the legitimacy of the Republic of Korea and the free democratic basic order,” the judge said.

Prosecutors expressed staunch opposition to the ruling, insisting that Jin took a distorted view of the laws for the sake of issuing an acquittal.

The case highlights several important issues. The first one centers on whether the teacher’s actions were illegal according to national security laws that ban activities that promote and praise the North Korean regime. The judge decided that the teacher’s actions could be considered a sort of education on unification.

During the lecture, students read aloud from a letter that deemed long-term political prisoners partial to North Korea as respectable figures and shouted, “Let’s oust outside powers who incite war threats and reunite the divided Korean Peninsula with the hands of the two Koreas,” prosecutors said.

Jin, however, shrugged off the incident, saying it has “no significant social impact” in today’s world. He decried those who fought against the North Korean partisans and upheld today’s liberal democracy as pro-American, and claimed that they taught young students prejudiced and distorted historical perspectives.

It’s clear that the lecture was definitely not engaged in anything resembling unification education. The partisan guerilla fighters stood up against the social regime of the Republic of Korea. Legal circles insist that praising them can be viewed as a public denial of the legitimacy of the Republic of Korea and an alignment with North Korea.

The second issue is whether pro-Pyongyang materials possessed and distributed by the teacher are illegal. The judge insisted that Kim’s possession of the materials is not a crime because his intention was clear. Prosecutors, though, point out that the judgment goes against a Supreme Court precedent. In 2004, the Supreme Court convicted a man of possessing anti-state materials. That case asserted that someone who knowingly possesses anti-state materials is violating national laws.

These days, Korean society is confused by a number of arbitrary decisions by judges, such as the controversial acquittal of lawmaker Kang Ki-kab on obstruction of justice charges.

People are now questioning why the courts even exist if they are igniting social tensions rather than easing them.

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