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Unseat Cho first

Oct 05,2019
이미지뷰
이미지뷰
Hundreds of thousands of protesters stage a rally on Thursday at Gwanghwamun Square to demand the resignation of Justice Minister Cho Kuk. [NEWS 1]
Choi Sang-yeon
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

It is not just the patients and their families who are concerned about what drug can be effective in treating cancer. Doctors are equally eager to learn. The Korea Cancer Center Hospital recently inquired from the national statistics office to learn of the survival rate of patients who had been treated in the hospital. Since it could not check whether the patients were still living or not after treatment, it sought the state office for help. Its request was turned down on grounds of privacy. Under the law, any use of private information must have the consent of the individual even if for anonymous use.

If case studies can be shared among hospitals, doctors can seek help from artificial intelligence to study the best possible cure for patients. But again, laws prevent data sharing. The ban has not been lifted despite pleas for two years. All these problems can be fixed by revising three laws — the individual privacy protection act, the telecommunications network act and the credit protection act. Revisions to those acts were submitted to the National Assembly last November, but they have not even made it to the standing committee for review.

Such legal provisions were made in advanced markets long ago as they are crucial in the age of the so-called fourth industrial revolution. Korea is paranoid about violations of privacy due to frequent leaks and exposures. Confirmation hearings for candidates for senior government posts are aired live on television. Many candidates turn down impressive jobs in fear of being publicly humiliated on TV. Those summoned by prosecutors for questioning have to go through mortifying perp walks. Suspects and witnesses become demeaned before they step into prosecutors’ offices.

People have been rallying in front of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in southern Seoul over the weekend to protest harsh investigative practices by the top law enforcement agency. Prosecutors storm into suspects’ offices and homes and take everything regardless of relevance to the case and attempt to find other dirt if necessary. They disclose preliminary findings or mere suspicions. Such high-handed practices are allowed thanks to the prosecution’s connections with the powers that be. All prosecution chiefs have promised political neutrality, and none have practiced it. The prosecution has often been called the “hunt dog of the ruling power.” As a result, the law enforcement agency has become almighty.

Prosecutors usually target the past administration or the one before that. Few aim at the powers that be. Human rights for suspects are only allowed for the same side. Prosecutors have become decisively powerful under the Moon Jae-in administration. Two former presidents, a Supreme Court chief justice and many senior government officials were disgraced in investigations. Some of the accused committed suicide while being investigated. Cho Kuk, when he was senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, did not criticize the prosecution. But now that he and his family are under investigation, he attacks prosecutors for being abusive and inhumane — and is resistant to his prosecutorial reforms.

The ruling power’s double standard is most confusing in Cho Kuk’s case. Why does such a controversial figure have to spearhead prosecutorial reforms? Leadership is crucial in reform as it is believed to be harder than revolution. The head of the Justice Ministry should be a figure of unquestioned neutrality and cleanness. Cho hardly fits that description. He stretches guidelines for his own needs. The president’s choices of people to surround him in powerful positions have been catastrophic.

True reform will be seen when the prosecution takes on the ruling power of that moment. Only then can its investigations of past governments be deemed fair. Few would complain of political targeting or vengeful investigations. There is an easy way to ensure the prosecution’s neutrality. The power of appointing a prosecutor general and other senior posts could be given to an independent — and neutral — body. No government has made such an attempt. The Moon administration won’t think of it. It justifies a clampdown on past governments as a “correction of past ills” and complains of resistance to reform if any of its own team members comes under investigation.

The Cho Kuk crisis should be a tipping point. If Moon is genuinely serious about reforming law enforcement, he must unseat Cho first. As an opposition leader, Moon demanded such a move from a conservative government. If his Blue House keeps drawing the line between who is on its side or not, no progress will be made in prosecutorial reform. No matter how many weekend protests take place down the road, there will be no change unless the Blue House changes first.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 4, Page 30