Stop politicizing the disasterA special investigation team under Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl announced the results of its 14-month re-investigation of the deadly sinking of the Sewol Ferry in 2014. The prosecution concluded that 13 out of 17 allegations raised by the bereaved families did not fall under criminal categories or were baseless, except for two indicted cases and another two under investigation by another law enforcement agency.
Prosecutor Im Gwan-heok, head of the team, said he could not make up criminal cases with his conscience as a legal practitioner. “We have done all we could,” he said. Authorities cannot drag on an investigation or cook up a crime for punishment just to relieve some of the woes of the victims’ families. The government also would lose grounds to criticize the prosecutor it had appointed to find fault with earlier investigations of the case.
The sinking of the ferry on April 16, 2014 during the President Park Geun-hye administration killed 304 with five still missing. Extra attention was paid to finding the truth behind the tragic disaster. The tragedy was visited repeatedly by the prosecution, the National Assembly, the Board of Audit and Inspection, the maritime safety authority, a special investigation and a civilian-led investigation.
When including the latest special probe, the case has been scrutinized eight times, leaving little to uncover. Prosecutors have indicted 400 and arrested 150, most of whom were found guilty by the Supreme Court. The prosecutors have indicted 11 senior officials of the maritime police for negligence in rescue. Nine, including Park’s former chief of staff Lee Byung-ki, were also indicted without physical detention for intruding on investigation activities.
Most believe political liability has been paid through the impeachment of Park. Still, the ruling party in December last year approved a special probe and extension of a civilian investigation. The disaster could be politicized ahead of the 2022 presidential election.
If politicizing the disaster continues, public sentiment toward the crisis could be affected. No one should capitalize on the tragedy for personal ambition.
The Sewol ferry crisis has raised safety awareness and triggered fixes in the law to prevent such accidents in the future. We must never forget the incident, but must end the political dispute.