In praise of Han’s declarationNew Prosecutor General Han Sang-dae has declared a “war on followers of North Korea.” In his inauguration speech at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office last week, he proclaimed to fight widespread corruption and fraud in our society, internal enemies within the prosecution and North Korea admirers. His rare remarks leave some room for controversy, particularly when the definition of what really constitutes “North Korea-friendly activities” is not clear. Nevertheless, we cannot deny the need to curb out-of-control unpatriotic activities.
Han’s definition of pro-North forces includes those who maintain the illusion that democracy’s supremacy over communism has not been proven and blindly follow and praise North Korea’s systems. He stressed that leaving them alone will lead to “national disaster,” and would be a “dereliction of duty” for prosecutors. Therefore, the prosecution should not shy away from the fight against the harmful forces, he said.
Serving as head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, Han has dealt with many high-profile cases involving national security. His declaration to remove pro-North forces appears to have originated from his abundant experience.
We cannot dispel the sinking feeling that our society has become too lenient with North Korea supporters. The National Security Law has become almost obsolete ever since the liberal Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations censured the law for potential human rights abuses. The seventh article of the law, which prohibits any act to exalt or promote North Korea, took the back seat in the name of freedom of expression. The boundary between pro-North and liberal forces has also become more vague, even to the extent that critics of pro-North forces have been denounced as ultra-right wing.
As a result, we had to witness an unimaginable instance in which a defendant proclaimed “Long live Kim Jong-il!” in a South Korean courtroom. There was also a spy case involving some members of the Democratic Labor Party and a prosecutor that had joined the party, and a female lieutenant is under investigation on charges of violating the National Security Law.
Apart from cyberspace, indigenous pro-North groups have sprung up across the political and military communities. Han’s remarks should not be understood as a form of political McCarthyism or a lopsided denunciation of leftist ideologies. It is time for us to face up to the grim reality where diverse forces seeking to shake our society still exist.