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Weather vane justice

Aug 31,2017
The Seoul High Court sentenced Won Sei-hoon, former chief of the National Intelligence Service, to four years in jail on charges of violating the NIS law and Public Office Election Law. The former head of the spy agency has been suspected of helping Park Geun-hye win the presidential election of 2012 by ordering his subordinates to post pro-Park and anti-Moon Jae-in messages on the internet.

The court’s ruling carries great significance because it admitted that the top spy agency’s intervention in politics constitutes a grave crime. The court believes that such a grave crime must be strongly punished. Looking at the past four years of the trying of this case, however, we cannot but wonder if our judiciary really wants political neutrality and fair decisions befitting its reputation and integrity.

The four trials rode a roller coaster from the first to the last at the Seoul High Court. In short, courts at all levels found Won guilty of violating the National Intelligence Service Law, but reached different verdicts on whether he violated the law banning the NIS from intervening in elections. In the first trial, the court found Won not guilty of political intervention and suspended his jail term. But in the second trial, the court judged him guilty of violating the law before sentencing him to three years in jail. Then the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Seoul High Court after raising doubts over the reliability of the Twitter accounts that served as decisive evidence of Won’s meddling in the presidential election.

Rulings by those courts drastically varied till the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2015 under the Park Geun-hye government. The proceedings at the Seoul High Court dragged on two more years after the highest court sent the case back to the lower court. But after the new liberal Moon Jae-in government was launched, the court found the spy chief guilty of violating the law prohibiting the agency from engaging in political intervention, after augmenting evidence other than what the highest court raised questions about, citing a lack of its reliability. In the process, a task force in charge of rooting out bad practices of the NIS pressured the judiciary by making public some related documents suggesting the spy agency’s involvement in the election.

The people had the hope that our courts could regain their trust through fair and upright rulings given the political sensitivity of the case. But the courts disappointed the public by handing down different rulings depending on the political inclination of the government in power. We urge our judiciary to get serious about political neutrality.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 31, Page 30