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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 14)

All Headlines 07:12 February 14, 2019

Do not abuse pardons
Moon should refrain from using amnesty for political gain

A controversy has arisen over President Moon Jae-in's plan to grant special pardons on the 100th anniversary of the March 1, 1919, Independence Movement. The reason is because he might misuse his amnesty right for political purposes.

According to the presidential office, the Ministry of Justice is in the process of sorting out beneficiaries of a special amnesty. At present, no one knows how many and who will be on the list of those eligible for these presidential pardons.

However, speculation is rampant that some progressive figures convicted of violating the law in politically sensitive cases might receive pardons. Some media outlets, particularly conservative newspapers, have raised the possibility that former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook and Lee Seok-ki, a former lawmaker of the now-defunct leftist United Progressive Party, might be shortlisted for clemency.

In 2015, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling against Han who was indicted on charges of receiving about 900 million won in bribes from a construction firm. In 2014, Lee was sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of plotting a pro-North Korean rebellion.

Both Han and Lee were found guilty under the rule of conservative President Park Geun-hye who was ousted from power in 2017 for her role in a massive corruption and influence peddling scandal. Civic activists have called for amnesty for Han and Lee, arguing that the Park regime put them behind bars as political retaliation against the progressive camp.

The media also reported possible amnesty for such progressive figures as former Gangwon Province Governor Lee Kwang-jae and Han Sang-kyun, a former leader of the militant Korea Confederation of Trade Unions. Governor Lee, a close aide to the late President Roh Moo-hyun, was convicted in 2011 for receiving illegal political funds from a business tycoon, while Han was sentenced to five years in prison in 2015 for orchestrating illegal and violent rallies against the Park government.

Conservative parties including the Liberty Korea Party and rightist organizations are strongly against granting special pardons to those progressive figures. They urge President Moon not to abuse his right to clemency. They also argue that if the President pardons the abovementioned figures, he could invite the rage of the people by breaking his campaign promise to exercise his amnesty right in a restricted manner.

Against this backdrop, the presidential office made it clear that Moon will not pardon those who were convicted of bribe-taking and other corruption charges. We hope the President will keep his promise not to abuse the special pardons. This time, special amnesty, if realized, will be the second of its kind after Moon pardoned 6,400 people, mostly minor offenders, in December 2017.

Presidential pardons are no doubt aimed at cementing social cohesion and national harmony by forgiving those convicted of a minor crime. They should not be abused or misused for political gain, which could risk undermining the core foundation of democracy ― the rule of law. It remains to be seen whether Moon can respect this democratic value while exercising his presidential right.
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