Scholars’ statement blasts gov’t over disaster

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Scholars’ statement blasts gov’t over disaster

A group of more than 1,000 overseas scholars in Washington signed a petition earlier this week demanding that the Park Geun-hye government own up to its responsibility for the Sewol ferry disaster and addressed reporters on the issue.

Five professors, including Nam Tae-hyun, a political science professor at Salisbury University in Maryland, held a press conference on Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. The meeting, under the theme “The Sewol Ferry Tragedy as a Warning: Neoliberal Deregulation and Lack of Democratic Accountability in South Korea,” was intended to spread awareness among Korean-Americans.

On their website, dubbed the Sewol Scholars, the group said in a statement that the doomed passenger ship capsized on April 16 “under the weight of deregulation and privatization,” both in the previous and current administrations.

The academics called on the Korean government to appoint an independent special prosecutor and establish a special act to investigate the causes of the tragedy and hold accountable those who were responsible, as well as strengthen safety regulations and inspections. They also urged the government to provide victims and families with adequate medical care and compensation.

So far, 1,077 scholars, including 577 professors working in academic institutions outside Korea, have signed the petition, entitled “Statement by Scholars Concerned About the Sewol Ferry Tragedy.” The petition did not include academics residing in Korea.

The Park administration “walked away from democratic accountability by abandoning its responsibility to protect the people, systematically controlling the media, and mobilizing the police to isolate and monitor the victims’ families,” the scholars’ statement said. “Many Koreans, after watching the government’s betrayal, began to raise serious questions about whether they could trust the current government with their lives.”

The petition was launched online on May 7 and gained momentum over the week, garnering hundreds of signatures in just several days.

In the statement, they added that the Park administration and the Korea Coast Guard failed to mobilize its resources to rescue passengers in a timely manner. It also criticized the government’s role in lax safety regulations at the Chonghaejin Marine Company, the Sewol ferry’s operator, that allowed it to import and renovate an aged ship, hire temporary workers (who did not have adequate safety training) at a low wage and turn a “blind eye to the illegal overloading of the ferry.”

The Korean-American community has been particularly vocal about the accident. Last week, a group of Koreans ran a full-page advertisement in The New York Times called “Bring the Truth to Light,” in which they lashed out at the Park administration for its poor handling of the disaster, which saw “no one” rescued among more than 300 people trapped inside the ship. The ad was proposed by members of Missy USA, a lifestyle website for Korean-American women, and raised more than $160,439 from more than 4,000 donors for the notice.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]



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