OPINION

[Editorial] Overstepping the line

By Korea Herald

Ruling party lawmaker discloses identity of whistleblower, branding him as criminal

  • Published : Sept 15, 2020 - 05:31
  • Updated : Sept 15, 2020 - 05:31

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea and its supporters are coming down on the 27-year-old man who first raised suspicion that Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s son enjoyed special favors when he served in the military. They have stepped over the line.

The informant and Choo’s son fulfilled their military duty as Korean Augmentation to the US Army soldiers in the 2nd Infantry Division of the Eighth US Army.

The informant revealed that Choo’s son did not return to his unit after his sick leave expired. He said that as the soldier in charge of the quarters he told Choo’s son to come back immediately, but he did not return.

Instead, a Korean Army captain came to the soldier on duty and said his leave was extended. He also told him not to report Choo’s son as AWOL. Choo’s son returned to his unit after taking additional leave for four more days.

The informant raised the suspicion that Choo’s son may have had his leave extended thanks to external pressure. At that time, his mother was chair of the ruling party.

The attack on the informant is occurring via social media and online communities. Criticism akin to cyberbullying reportedly surged after Rep. Hwang Hee of the party disclosed the informant’s name and a photo of his face Sunday.

Anonymous slander intended to scare the informant poured out, attracting hundreds of malignant comments. The goal of these attacks is to scare potential informants into silence.

Hwang branded the informant as a criminal. “(Full name) should be thoroughly investigated,” he posted on Facebook. “Considering his words and deeds, he cannot be the sole criminal. A whole mountain was burned down by childish play with fire. We must find accomplices involved in the process.”

With controversies mounting over his remarks, he deleted the informant’s name and photo.

Depicting the whistleblower as a criminal is a nasty maneuver to save the embattled Choo. There are no grounds or logic to Hwang’s argument. The informant did nothing wrong but blow the whistle about a special favor that would not have happened for an ordinary soldier.

Paradoxically, the ruling party and President Moon Jae-in have advocated the protection of informants as an important pillar of democracy.

In 2017, as chair of the ruling party, Choo vowed to improve systems to protect whistleblowers. As a presidential candidate, Moon pledged to better protect informants and turned the pledge into one of his 100 state tasks after his election.

To their eyes, however, whistleblowers should be protected when the information they expose is favorable to them. Even character assassination is OK if it is not.

Hwang and the ruling party said a local television network had already broadcast footage showing the informant’s name and face. But the situation is different.

In February the network interviewed him to broadcast his revelation. Afterward it erased his name and trimmed the footage to show him below the neck. Lately, it has aired the edited version. And yet Hwang disclosed his name and face intentionally without permission in defining him as a criminal. It would be difficult to know the name of the informant unless one searched for the initial footage at considerable effort.

Hwang apologized for disclosing the informant’s name and for describing him as “the sole criminal.” But his apology does not sound sincere. He modified the expressions he used, but maintained the same position. “Still, I suspect there may be wirepullers behind the informant. And can’t a lawmaker say that much?”

It sounds as if a lawmaker like him is qualified to build a conspiracy theory and define an innocent citizen as a criminal without evidence.

Intended or not, Hwang’s Facebook posts sent a signal to avid Moon supporters to out the informant. This is effectively an instigation of cyber violence.

Is this the fairness and justice the ruling party advocates?