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Repent Minister Choo!

Feb 12,2020
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae once again claimed that her decision to withhold the full text of the indictment of 13 Blue House officials and other figures on charges of unlawfully intervening in the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election was aimed at correcting a “wrong practice of the past.” She went on to say that prosecutorial reforms start with rectifying wrong practices if they infringe on human rights. That’s why she refused to submit the full text of the indictment to the National Assembly, she said.

For starters, making public what’s inside public indictments protects people’s rights. If the contents of indictments are not revealed, the people cannot know what charges are filed by the top law enforcement agency until a trial begins. Fortunately, a newspaper exposed the full text of the indictment, but there is no guarantee that it will happen next time. Disclosing the full text of public indictments is a norm in democracies.

In fact, it was the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration that enacted a bill requiring the Ministry of Justice to fully disclose what charges are made in public indictments. The act was aimed at protecting citizens’ rights. Under our past authoritarian governments, the ministry often kept secret public indictments, citing security. But if indictments are kept secret, the press or civic groups cannot know if investigations or indictments were conducted in a legitimate way. The Moon Jae-in administration went so far as to block reporters from directly contacting prosecutors and banned the prosecution from briefing media outlets about its investigations. Even Lawyers for a Democratic Society, a progressive group, criticized the government for “dreaming of a new dictatorship.”

Minister Choo said that our Constitution allows the government to put a “ban on disclosing public charges” based on the presumption of innocence. She argues such measures help protect human rights of defendants. But the Supreme Court has ruled that the disclosure of specific charges in public indictments does not violate the law if the act promotes public interest rather than infringing on human rights. Choo, a former judge, surely knows that.

Many people attack Choo for trying to cover up a methodical intervention by the presidential office in a local election. A civic group and the opposition Liberty Korea Party accused Choo of power abuse. It is a national shame that a justice minister is attempting to deceive the public with sheer sophistry. Choo must repent and apologize. Otherwise, she will be remembered as the worst minister in the history of our Justice Ministry.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 12, Page 30