Go to contents

[Editorial] Heedless Even of the Prosecutor General’s “National Security Law Apprehensions”?

[Editorial] Heedless Even of the Prosecutor General’s “National Security Law Apprehensions”?

Posted October. 20, 2004 23:08,   


Public Prosecutor General Song Kwang-soo obliquely expressed his opposition to the Uri Party’s “Bill on Abolishing the National Security Law and Supplementing Criminal Law.” Song pointed out in his response during the National Assembly’s Administration Inspection that, after the National Security Law has been abrogated, if pro-North Korea activities are prosecuted according to criminal law as “treason,” this could lead to “confusion and dispute regarding the practical application of the law.” As someone responsible for carrying out the law, Song has voiced his apprehensions about problems that he himself anticipates. We should all pay attention—especially the Uri Party, who will be sitting down to negotiate with the opposition parties over the contents of the bill.

But the Uri Party has chosen to ignore the prosecutor general’s words of caution. Representative Cheon Jeong-bae emphasized, “Everything will be punishable as treason according to the revised criminal law, so there will be no problems.” Both the legal and the academic communities have expressed worries similar to those of Prosecutor General Song, but the Uri Party’s reply has been the same. From the standpoint of either jurisprudence or civic sentiment, their attitude can only be described as reckless.

The “Criminal Law Supplementation Bill” is contradictory in itself. Since the alleged rationale for abolishing the National Security Law was that North Koreans were also part of the Korean people and thus a partner in exchange and cooperation, why designate North Korea as a “treasonous organization” in the pages of criminal law? These are blatant inconsistencies. Another point commonly raised by critics of the bill is that a special law, like the National Security Law, cannot be absorbed into the criminal law system, which is a general law. The National Security Law was expressly drafted with North Korea in mind, and differs fundamentally from criminal law, which deals with general crimes like treason and offenses against the safety of the state.

Even the idea of applying the category of “treason” is more problematic than it sounds. The essential element that constitutes the crime of treason is “insurrection.” Only acts of insurrection aimed at undermining the country’s territorial rights or destroying the basic structures of government are punishable as treason. Simple spying, praising or encouraging the North Korean government, and receiving bribes are difficult to prosecute without proof of conspiratorial plans for insurrection. The proposed revisions could seriously endanger the stability of the law by arbitrarily interpreting the crime of treason.

What is more important is that the bill clearly deviates from the sentiments of the Korean people. The law must be created and revised upon the consensus of the people. Nearly 80 percent of Koreans believe that “the National Security Law is necessary for the safety of the country despite the unfortunate side effect of human rights violations.” The government party’s bill does not reflect this outlook in any way.

In fact, the Uri Party not once consulted the Ministry of Justice or the Prosecutor’s Office, which are, after all, the branches of government most directly affected by the proposed changes. When asked about the reason for this oversight, several key party executives replied, “Because we were certain that they would oppose, even without explicitly requesting their opinion.” Can this really have come from the mouths of a government party’s leaders, entrusted with the operations of state? It can be nothing other than gross negligence for the ruling party to forego consultation with such vital sources of input in a matter of grave national security.

The Uri Party plans to submit the “Criminal Law Supplementation Bill” to the relevant standing committee at the beginning of next month, to begin the process of deliberation. Although it seems belated, they must not only respect the opinions of the principal departments involved in the issue but also converse sufficiently with the opposition parties, and find a way to alleviate the security-related anxieties of the Korean people. Without such measures, denigrating party officials opposed to the abolition of the National Security Law or pressuring them to give up their posts will only amount to tyranny masquerading as reform.