Time to set guidelines
Asked by an opposition lawmaker if he could censure a prosecutor for posting a political comment on social media, Kim Oh-soo, the prosecutor general nominee, stressed “political neutrality” of prosecutors with some strings attached. “It depends on individual cases,” he said in a written answer to the lawmaker ahead of his confirmation hearing. Kim’s answer, though with conditions attached, carries great significance as it reflects his opposition to prosecutors’ unfettered expression of political views.
Prosecutors’ postings of personal comments on political issues on social media trigger public distrust in investigations and the independence of the top law enforcement agency. If suspects believe prosecutors dealt with their case with a political bias, the justification of their probe is irrevocably impaired no matter what results they come up with after investigation. If the frame of “politically-motivated investigation” is added, investigation results easily provide fodder for a vicious cycle of political attacks. What would have happened if the case involving a conservative civil activist who was indicted for insulting President Moon Jae-in by distributing leaflets criticizing him had been handed over to a pro-Moon prosecutor? (The president eventually withdrew his accusation.)
One of the ringleaders of posting personal comments on Facebook is incumbent prosecutor Jin Hye-won who explicitly expresses her pro-government tendencies. She provoked controversy after posting a photo she took with the late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon to show her support when the mayor was accused of sexually assaulting his secretary. The prosecutor is even being investigated for inappropriately attacking the opposition People Power Party (PPP) ahead of the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan. That’s not all. After a senior member of the PPP mentioned the need for Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office head Lee Sung-yoon to resign after taking responsibility for his repeatedly biased investigations, she hurled insults at the prosecutor-turned-lawmaker on Facebook.
Another prosecutor Lim Eun-jeong, a researcher at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, is also under investigation on charges of leaking secret information she obtained while on duty. She posted what was discussed in a meeting on an investigation of the alleged subordination of perjury in the case involving a former prime minister after the meeting ended with conclusions she did not like. Even current Justice Minister Park Beom-kye warned her not to cross the boundaries.
The top law enforcement authority must set detailed guidelines. Otherwise, it cannot ease public concerns about the independence of the prosecution.