Court splits decision in book-ban controversy

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Court splits decision in book-ban controversy

The Defense Ministry went too far when it fired one military attorney for trying to lift a ban on 23 “seditious” books, but it was justified in dismissing the second attorney who led the challenge, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled on Friday.

Thirty-nine-year-old Ji Young-jun had served the military without incident for more than 10 years and would not be able to get other work as a lawyer if his discharge was upheld, and “had a pure intention” when he filed the suit. But 29-year-old Park Ji-woong intended to damage the ministry’s reputation, presiding Judge Kim Jong-pil said.

“Park assumed in advance that the military’s ban of the books was unconstitutional, and his action was meant to hurt the military’s dignity. But Ji ... only wanted the matter decided by the Constitutional Court,” Kim said. “The ministry’s decision to dismiss Ji was too harsh.”

Ji and Park had been identified as the ringleaders of a group of military lawyers who in October 2008 challenged the constitutionality of the ministry’s ban three months earlier on “rogue publications” considered either pro-North Korea, anti-government, anti-United States or against the market economy.

The titles included Noam Chomsky’s “Year 501: The Conquest Continues,” and Chang Ha-joon’s “Bad Samaritans,” a best seller in Korea.

After the seven petitioned the Constitutional Court that the ban infringed on their fundamental rights of academic freedom, the Defense Ministry fired Park and Ji and disciplined the other five attorneys.

One received a one-month pay cut; one was reprimanded; two were put on “best behavior,” a punishment one step down from a reprimand; and one received a suspended punishment.

All but the last appealed their punishments with the Administrative Court, arguing that they did not violate the soldiers’ obligation to obey orders and that the ministry had abused its discretion.

The court upheld all the punishments except Ji’s dismissal. Judge Kim said, “They filed a constitutional petition that caused a political controversy. There were other ways to challenge the book ban, and they should have been more prudent.”

All six officers, including Ji, said they plan to appeal Friday’s court ruling. The Constitutional Court has not yet ruled on the legality of the book ban.

By Kim Mi-ju, Choe Sun-uk []
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