Park Chung Hee’s decrees ruled unconstitutional

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Park Chung Hee’s decrees ruled unconstitutional

The Constitutional Court ruled yesterday that three presidential decrees made by late strongman Park Chung Hee, father of President Park Geun-hye, were unconstitutional, a ruling that removes the gloomy legacy of the military dictatorship from Korea’s modern history.

Six people claimed they were victims of the so-called “Presidential Emergency Decree” of the former military ruler Park and appealed a ruling to the court over the constitutionality of the decrees No. 1, 2 and 9, and the so-called Yushin Constitution Article No. 53.

“The eight justices unanimously agreed that the presidential emergency decrees No. 1, 2 and 9 are in violation of the Constitution,” the court said.

Declared by Park in January 1974, decree No. 1 bans any protests or opposition to the Yushin Constitution, the authoritarian law made by late president Park and allows the president to arrest any protestor without an arrest warrant from the court.

Decree No. 2 allows the president to launch a military trial to punish protestors of the Yushin Constitution and lets the national spy agency’s chief investigate the case.

No. 9 forbids people from partaking in any political activities, including making criticism against the government and allows the president to shut down any media companies, expel students or dismiss government officials critical of the government.

“The decrees No. 1 and 2, which totally prevented any form of criticism against the government, doesn’t fit in the order of the liberal democracy,” the court said.

“It is an arbitrary interpretation of the state’s right of punishment and excessive violation and restriction of freedom of expression, and voting rights of the people, the principle of warrant requirement and others. In all aspects, they are in violation of the Constitution.”

In terms of the decree No. 9, the court also said it “can’t be tolerated based on the principle of people’s sovereignty.”

“These presidential emergency decrees have the power equivalent to other laws, so the right to rule its constitutionality belongs to the Constitutional Court only,” the court added.

However, when it comes to the Yushin Constitution Article No. 53, the court didn’t rule on its constitutionality.

“The Yushin Constitution Article No. 53 is just a ground to implement those emergency decrees,” the court said. The article, ratified in 1972, says, “if a president judges national security or public security is at risk of a grave threat, he can declare an emergency decree in regard to overall state affairs.”

It also says, “the president can also tentatively take an emergency measure against the freedom and rights of people, which are guaranteed by the Constitution, if it is needed.”

One of the six people who filed the appeal was O Jong-sang, 72, who was an ordinary citizen during the rule of Park Chung Hee. In May 1974, O criticized the Park administration’s policies during his conversation with a high school girl in a bus.

The girl reported this to her school teacher, and the teacher relayed it to the police.

O was later arrested by national spy agents and tortured during questioning, he said.

He received three years in jail in violation of the decrees.

In 2010, during the appellate suit filed by O, the Supreme Court ruled that decree No. 1 was unconstitutional and acquitted him.

A group of people who said they were victimized by the decrees convened a press meeting in front of the court and hailed the ruling.

“Other remnants of Yushin [rule] still exist,” Paik Ki-hwan, one of the six, said. “We need to resolve other matters of the past.”


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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