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A pardoner’s tale

Jan 01,2018
President Moon Jae-in, in his first exercise of special pardon, cleared the criminal record of 6,400 people, but left out the usual well-known names from the business and political communities. Those pardoned were normal people who had committed small offenses. Civil servants and businessmen convicted of crimes were excluded. Moon had promised in his campaign that he would not pardon anyone charged with bribery, embezzlement or negligence of trust. He stayed true to his words as Han Myeong-sook, former prime minister under President Roh Moo-hyun and former Gangwon Governor Lee Kwang-jae were not pardoned.

The government considered pardoning those convicted after anti-government rallies related to the sinking of the Sewol ferry, the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system and other controversial projects. Instead, it included just 25 residents arrested while protesting against the Yongsan redevelopment project. This was the right decision as the five high-profile protests included questionable figures. Despite strong petitions, Moon also opted not to pardon Han Sang-gyun, former head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, who led a massive protest against the Park Geun-hye administration for poor handling of the Sewol ferry sinking, and Lee Seok-gi, former lawmaker of the disbanded Unified Progressive Party, serving nine years in prison for violating the National Security Law.

Still, he made one exception by pardoning one politician — Chung Bong-ju, a former Democratic Party lawmaker who finished a one-year jail term and was stripped of his eligibility to run for public offices until 2022. He was convicted of spreading false allegations against former President Lee Myung-bak. Chung’s new freedom to speak openly and run for office could give traction to the prosecution probe into illegalities committed during the Lee administration.

Presidential pardons must not be exercised for political purposes. Moon’s pardons focusing on people should be the new benchmark.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 30, Page 26