An immunity too far

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An immunity too far

Lawmakers summoned by prosecutors on bribery and election law violation charges resisted arrest and abused immunity that is given to our legislators for very different reasons. But in the end, they succumbed to public pressure and surrendered themselves.

Lawmakers are entitled to protection from apprehension and given exceptions to the constitutional principle of equality before the law for the continuity and independence of legislative activities. But abuse of that privilege raises the question of whether they are worthy of such exceptional treatment.

All 130 representatives of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy demanded an extra session of the National Assembly just a minute before Wednesday midnight, allowing the session to resume on Friday. The lawmakers with charges against them were unprotected by immunity for only a couple of days, Wednesday and Thursday.

Thursday was the day prosecutors had set for the five lawmakers to undergo court reviews for their arrest warrants.

All five lawmakers charged of bribery and violating the election law - Shin Geh-ryoon, Kim Jae-yun, and Shin Hak-yong of the NPAD and the Saenuri Party’s Park Sang-eun and Cho Hyun-yong - applied for deferments of the court reviews of their arrest warrants.

Each of the three NPAD lawmakers are suspected of pocketing 50 million won ($49,053) to exercise influence over a bill to help Seoul Arts College. Cho is accused of receiving 160 million won from a railway parts operator and Park of collecting illegal political funds worth 10 billion won from various companies based in Incheon.

On Thursday, they refused to open doors for prosecutors and resisted accompanying them to court. The NPAD reps only complied after criticism from the media and the public mounted.

Park and Cho of the Saenuri Party made a bigger scene. They went into hiding and turned their phones off to avoid tracking by prosecutors. Their cowardly flight to dodge law enforcement officers brings shame to a public office that represents the people and makes laws on their behalf. Prosecutors said they would also punish those who helped them run.

If the lawmakers are as innocent as they claim, they had no reason to refuse the hearings. Immunity from indictment was granted to lawmakers to protect them from dictatorship and the excesses of a ruling power. Lawmakers must remember that they can be stripped of their rights if they continue to disappoint the people and test their patience.

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