Extremism in the air
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Remarkable changes took place across China ahead of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Foreigners were shocked to witness a sudden halting of jaywalking. The secret was in Beijing’s strong administrative actions. Police hid behind buildings to pounce on anyone ignoring traffic signals when crossing the street. Those caught had to pay a 200 yuan ($28) fine or spend a night behind the bars. If caught in the morning, one had to stay a full 24 hours in a cell without any food or even water. It was a typical totalitarian way to achieve a goal quickly. Human rights were disregarded.
Such administrative behavior can never be imagined in today’s democratic Korea. If our policymakers took such steps, they could face impeachment and removal from office for human rights violations. Freedom and democracy are the highest constitutional values of our society. The public has become this mature after experiencing governments of both the left and right.
Still, the Moon Jae-in administration’s measures aimed at clamping down on real estate speculation and bogus news could undermine the people’s rights.
For instance, a law enacted under the Roh Tae-woo administration in 1989 to levy tax on extra gains from land ownership was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in 1994. The government argued that restrictions on private ownership could be justified for the public interest because real estate speculation was evil to society. The Constitutional Court did not agree with the government’s “public” definition of land and upheld the right to private ownership of properties.
That case could be referenced in the argument over whether a retroactive application of the revised act capping prices on apartment developments before construction infringes on the right to property ownership. Whether the new act violates the Constitution should be judged by the Constitutional Court, but pushing ahead with the plan despite controversy goes against the Moon administration’s slogan to respect public needs in policymaking.
The liberal government may not worry about irking people living in homes worth more than 1 billion won ($825,627) because they are not their base in the first place. Policymakers should not make politically expedient judgments on constitutional rights like property ownership. Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Hong Nam-ki and Land and Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee reportedly clashed over the measure. It is frustrating to see politicians-turned-government officials addressing economic issues through political reasoning.
After being nominated chairman of the mighty Korea Communications Commission, Han Sang-hyuk, former co-head of the Citizens’ Coalition of Democratic Media, said he was a “legal expert” and proclaimed that “intentional disinformation” and extreme outbursts of hate did not fall under “freedom of expression.” The comments sounded as if they came from a military regime. Or he may be seeking some rewards for joining the legal field at a late age or may hold a grudge against the mainstream media for the agonies of his father, a former county head who suffered for blowing the whistle on administrative meddling in local elections. But the blatantly leftist comment only raised complaints about his appointment. He was appointed to a position that oversees policies on media and communications platforms. Why he had to highlight that he was a lawyer is beyond comprehension.
Kim Jo-won — who replaced Cho Kuk as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs after Cho was named head the Justice Ministry — vowed to act “sternly” against behavior from government officials that “go against public sentiment.” His warnings on “extreme spiteful” expressions and actions “going against public sentiment” are not legally correct or suitable for policymakers. To investigate or punish someone, there must be clear and detailed grounds. Senior government officials under the constitutional definition must “serve” the people instead of pressuring government employees, threatening the media, and dismissing such basic rights as property ownership. A communist state maintains social order through commands from senior party official. This government is turning oppressive and overbearing.