Park’s comments are not criminalA conservative civic group has pressed charges against Park Chang-shin, a senior member of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice, for violating National Security Law with his remarks demanding President Park Geun-hye step down and siding with North Korea during a Mass condemning the government. I looked up the text of the priest’s controversial sermon on the Internet.
Park lamented that the country’s democracy has been ruined by irregularities committed during the last presidential election by the National Intelligence Service. He declared that the lives of the working class, ordinary people, and farmers were being oppressed by the illegitimate governing power. The same power is attacking opponents and critics as pro-North Korea.
He said the propaganda campaign against so-called pro-North Korea forces was riding on escalated tensions with the North. It is critical to seek reconciliation and exchanges with North Korea, but the government instead is exacerbating hostility and tensions and is building security to silence criticism and opposition against it. At the end of the sermon, the priest cited the case of North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island as the fallout of political abuse of military tensions.
Everyone in the country knows that there are suspicions over the National Intelligence Service organizing a smear campaign by posting over a million comments online disparaging opposition party candidates during the last presidential race. The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs and the Ministry of Defense’s Cyber Warfare Command division are also accused of being pulled into the online operation. The president has the obligation to defend democracy. Yet President Park has not made any sincere efforts to uncover the truth behind the allegations of organized administrative intervention in the last election. She and her government are instead suspected of suppressing the prosecution’s investigation into the case. The liberal priest demanded Park step down after emphasizing the wrongdoing and lack of responsible action from the president and the government.
But the ruling Saenuri Party, some media and conservative organizations focused entirely on his remarks on Yeonpyeong Island to underpin the radical pro-North Korea stance of the progressive group of Catholic priests. Park did not deny the legitimacy of the Northern Limit Line, nor did he claim North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island was just.
The waters near the maritime border in the West Sea have always been a stage for conflict with North Korea. He made the remark to question why South Korea and the United States had to provoke North Korea by holding joint military drills in the disputed area. But the Saenuri Party and conservative groups went on to distort the tone of Park’s remarks to claim he had condoned North Korea’s attack on South Korean territory. It is conventional witch-hunting trick to quench anti-government opinion.
His remarks in no way violated the National Security Law. The law defines it a crime to praise and carry out activities promoting anti-government organizations with a clear purpose to undermine the country’s basic order of free democracy. Park has not made any remark praising and promoting anti-government organizations, nor has he denied the constitutional order of free democracy. The state prosecution has the duty to investigate when criminal charges are made. But it can turn down the suit when it deems that the act does not fit a criminal category. There is no sense in investigating the criminality of Park’s comments. The prosecution would be dancing to witch-hunting drums if it embarks on this investigation.
Civilian criticism should not be oppressed and stigmatized as pro-North Korea. Instead the government should pay heed to the criticism and voices of concern from the civilian and religious sector.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor at Sogang University Law School.
By Lee Ho-joong