Fighting for justice

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Fighting for justice

The author is a national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

On July 11, 2002, a farewell ceremony for Justice Minister Song Jeong-ho was held at the Ministry of Justice in Gwacheon in Gyeonggi. “Eradication of corruption is the biggest national calling of the time. No one should wield influence or intervene in prosecutors’ investigations. No one should attempt to exploit prosecutors. Their neutrality and independence must be protected. Prosecutors should have the courage and wisdom to get over external pressure,” he said.

Song mentioned the Dongnae Fortress Battle in the early stage of the Japanese Invasion of Korea in 1592. He said that a Japanese commander asked Song Sang-hyeon — head of Dongnae County — to open the way to invade Ming of China. Then Song responded by saying that it was easy to die fighting, but he would not open the way. He emphasized that the Ministry of Justice and the prosecutors would not give up.

I took Minister Song’s speech to heart more than others because he supported his words with actions. He was asked by the Blue House to exercise his right as justice minister to influence a prosecutor general to prevent President Kim Dae-jung’s son Hong-up from being placed into custody for corruption, but he refused the request and resigned. He made a choice that Song Sang-hyeon did. With his sacrifice, prosecutors maintained independence in investigation and brought Hong-up into custody.

Current Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae — who is compared to the former Justice Minister Song in many ways — went on to make the appointments she wanted. Senior prosecutors close to Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl in the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office and the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office have all been replaced with ones who are known to be closer to Minister Choo and the Moon Jae-in administration. They showed with actions that they focus on “exercising their investigative rights in a reserved way” rather than “investigating the sitting power.”

However, it will be a different story for the young prosecutors who will be appointed on Feb. 3. I hope they will find the right path and stay on it. Wouldn’t the former Justice Minister Song encourage them by quoting a part from the speech he made 18 years ago? “The prosecutors fighting corruption is like David fighting Goliath. As David had God, the prosecutors have people and justice.”

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 29, Page 29
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