They say they want a revolutionThe Moon Jae-in administration is obsessed with the “revolutionary” identity of last year’s protests against Park Geun-hye. Moon himself called them a “revolution,” and in his first speech marking Independence Movement Day on March 1, the president stressed that the spirit of the movement a century ago was embodied in the protests.
A revolution can overwhelm a country. When people believe a world without justice needs to be overturned, when they believe their leaders do not have the will or ability to solve problems, a revolution occurs. The protests against Park began because of her power abuse and corruption. They were part of a revolution born from the people’s resistance, and that revolution is continuing even now.
A revolution differentiates between my side and yours, between good and evil. When protesters are the main agent of the revolution, Park and her conservative predecessor Lee Myung-bak become symbols of the counterrevolution. They are seen as evil forces to be punished.
Revolutionary forces promote a theory of justice where ancient regimes must be destroyed to create a new world. During the French revolution, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed by the guillotine for high treason. A revolution demands sacrifice from those standing on the other side.
It remains to be seen if Park, the first subject to be removed, will ever be able to set foot outside prison. A lower court sentenced her to 30 years. She is currently 66. If the Supreme Court upholds her punishment, she will be incarcerated well into her 90s.
I still believe Park should be released from physical detention while she appeals the decision. After the court extended her detention last October, she has been boycotting her own trial, calling it political retaliation. We have not heard any word from her about the charges against her.
We don’t know how far her confidante Choi Soon-sil was involved in state affairs, why she established two foundations that collected 77.4 billion won ($72.5 million) from conglomerates and where that money went. The truth is buried in Park’s heart. If she were allowed to attend the trial without detention, she might have spoken up about the accusations.
Physical detention prevents suspects from exercising their right to defense. Between a detainee and prosecution, it is clear who has the advantage in a legal battle. When suspects are detained during a criminal investigation, they are deprived of their right to fair defense.
In a trial, the accused won’t have equal footing against the prosecution. It is a violation of the principle that two sides ought to have equal arms. If Park’s appeal moves to the Supreme Court without her, history will remember it as a conviction rejected by the accused.
Lee, Park’s predecessor in office, currently faces 20 charges of corruption, including one for receiving 11 billion won in bribes. The public has largely demanded his detention. Many say he must be detained because he is a force opposing last year’s candlelight revolution. He is hated by many people and he will likely be convicted.
Emotions are overwhelming the law. Some might feel a sense of catharsis when they imagine Lee and Park together in the same detention center. They might believe it serves the spirit of revolution and the spirit of justice.
It is important that Lee be investigated and tried without physical detention. It is not about presumption of innocence, or the possibility that he will flee or destroy evidence, or sympathy toward a fallen former president. And it is, of course, not about the unfortunate circumstance of two former presidents being detained at the same time. No, it is because we should give Lee an opportunity to present his position in the courtroom and allow the people to judge.
The final destination of any investigation and trial is discovery of a substantive truth. It is a long journey, but it must exist objectively in our reality. How much do we know so far about the actual truth? There might be arguments from the prosecution, testimony from witnesses and speculation from the media, but many still believe that Lee must be detained because of their hateful emotion toward him. That is not a legal justification for detention.
Suspicions surrounding Lee could all be true. If he really did embezzle funds from the National Intelligence Service, accept bribes and evade taxes as the actual owner of DAS — as the prosecution is arguing — they are serious crimes. But it is still normal in our society to guarantee a suspect’s right to defense, to allow a legal battle to play out in the courtroom if the truth is unclear and there is room for debate. If the charges are proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it won’t be too late to punish him when his shameless acts are laid bare.
The trial of a former president serves history. It carries the responsibility of revealing the truth. That is real justice. The legitimacy of the candlelight revolution must be materialized through procedural justice. When you insist that you successfully eradicated deep-seated corruption by holding a former president in a jail cell, that is nothing more than justice at the hands of those in power.
Normalizing the abnormal has been the spirit of the candlelight protests. A criminal investigation and trial must not be treated as a revolution.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 16, Page 31
*The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.