Very unpresidential

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Very unpresidential

President Moon Jae-in has withdrawn the criminal complaint filed on his behalf against a man in his 30s for “insulting” him. In front of the National Assembly in July 2019, Kim Jeong-sik, leader of a conservative civic group, spread leaflets critical of the president. After that, Moon filed a complaint with the police through his lawyer and the police referred the case to the prosecution for indictment. After public opinion went against the president, the Blue House announced Tuesday that Moon retracted the charge after breaking a long silence about the case.

A Blue House spokesperson said that the president took the action considering “apparent damages on the nation’s dignity and future” as the offender used an over-the-top expression — “the dog of North Korea” — quoting an extreme right-wing magazine published in Japan. The spokesperson explained that the president withdrew the accusation after accepting public demand that a head of state endure such insulting rhetoric. But she added that the government will determine whether to accuse such cases depending on the degree of infringement on the integrity of the government. She also expressed hope that the case offers an opportunity for citizens to “reflect on their malicious spread of fake news.” Her comment translates into a demand for Kim’s repentance and a threat to accuse such acts if similar cases occur in the future.

Kim wondered why the president took such a harsh action against him while the president “kept mum” even after North Korea called him “the boiled head of a cow.” But he vented his anger at the powers that be, including the president, not ordinary citizens. A compassionate president must embrace it, as Moon championed in the past.

As a presidential candidate, Moon said that citizens should be free to criticize their leader. In a meeting with church leaders, he even said the act of hurling insults at a president can be pardoned. “If the person feels better after insulting a president, it is good,” he said. Many in the liberal camp backed revising or scrapping of insult as a crime from the law. In his academic paper, former Justice Minister Cho Kuk even justified the act of defaming high-level officials, including a president, as it fits democratic principles. If so, why such double standards again?

Moon should have avoided accusing Kim for insulting him from the beginning. His complaint goes against his own career as a human rights lawyer, not to mention as a head of state. That’s why the Justice Party and the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, a pro-government civic group, had urged Moon to drop the complaint. Kim said he felt threatened when the police seized his smartphone last year. Political leaders must demonstrate a sense of generosity.
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