Don’t hide behind immunity

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Don’t hide behind immunity

If you’re going to accuse someone of criminal activity, you need to present sound evidence. If not, it amounts to calumny. During a National Assembly session on Monday, Democratic Party Representative Kang Gi-jung said that the first lady, Kim Yoon-ok, met Daewoo Shipbuilding & Maritime Engineering CEO Nam Sang-tae and his wife last year. Kang alleged that the first lady received from Nam a bundle of $1,000 American Express checks and ordered a Blue House official to let Nam keep his job.

If Kang’s allegations are true, it’s a revelation powerful enough to result in her being punished and even for Lee to face strong pressure to resign.

But Kang did not present any evidence to back up his accusation. The Blue House flatly denied his allegations one by one, saying they are totally groundless. But Kang is keeping mum on the presidential office’s response.

According to the Constitution, lawmakers are entitled to immunity for speeches they make in the National Assembly. Originating from 17th century Britain, the privilege is also embodied in the constitutions of the United States, Germany and others. But that’s just to protect freedom of speech within the legislative branch, not to allow indiscriminate tongue flapping.

The argument that there should be a limit to the immunity enjoyed by lawmakers has repeatedly emerged as a consequence of the irresponsible bombshells or groundless criticisms dropped by legislators over the years. If Kang really believes what he is saying, he should be able to make the same accusation outside the National Assembly. If not, he should respond to the criticism that he is hiding behind the cloak of immunity.

Accusation without evidence is a chronic disease in Korean politics. In the 2007 presidential election, Grand National Party candidate Lee Hoi-chang was defeated amidst several allegations, including one that he had covered up his son’s military draft-dodging and another that he had received a $200,000 bribe. But the accusations were eventually proven false and the accusers sent to jail.

Park Jie-won, the DP’s floor leader, said, “If the accusations are true, the Blue House needs to investigate. If not, it needs to explain why the allegations are wrong.” This is another irresponsible remark. The burden of proof is not on the Blue House but on Kang. We urge the National Assembly ethics committee to demand that Kang provide evidence for his remarks and take appropriate action when the truth is found.
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