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Priests, nuns demand prosecution reforms in South Korea

Clergy, religious join growing calls for changes to an 'evil, tyrannical and manipulative' system

UCA News reporter, Seoul

UCA News reporter, Seoul

Published: December 10, 2020 05:52 AM GMT

Updated: December 10, 2020 05:53 AM GMT

Priests, nuns demand prosecution reforms in South Korea

Father Kim Young-sik, the representative of the National Priests Association, reads a declaration demanding reforms in front of the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in Seoul on Dec. 7. (Photo: Catholic Times.org)

Thousands of Catholic priests and nuns marched through Seoul demanding reform in South Korea's prosecution system, which they called evil, manipulative, and detrimental to innocent people.

Some 4,000 people, including around 1,000 priests and more than 2,800 nuns, ended their rally outside the Supreme Prosecutor's Office in the capital on Dec. 7 and held a media conference.

The National Priests' Association, which coordinated the protest, also presented a declaration before the media demanding reform of the prosecution process, a growing national demand that began in 2019.

Priests' association president Father Kim Young-sik read out the declaration that called for "immediate steps" to be taken to bring about change.

"The reason why these priests and religious stand stay quietly on the road is that our democracy, which was gained through sacrifices and dedication, is again at a crossroads," Father Kim said.

The declaration he readout said the Korean prosecution system practiced evil behavior by manipulating cases to make innocent people criminals. It also secretly covered up crimes and cleared criminals, it said.

"The prosecution's independence will begin when its tyranny is ended," Father Kim said.

The demand for reform became a nationwide movement in 2019 following a tussle between the Korean government and the top public prosecutor's office over change.

Trouble began when the prosecutor's office and the minority conservative party attempted to block reform approved by the National Assembly and the administration of President Moon Jae-in, the nation's third Catholic president.

Moon's Democratic Party of Korea came to power in 2017 with a reform agenda following the downfall of former president, Park Geun-hye, over corruption scandals.
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South Korea's prosecution enjoys immense powers, including ordering and carrying out investigations and enforce indictment.

It has been accused of being close to corporates and colluding with Park and reluctant to investigate her scandal-tainted associates.

The crisis intensified in August 2019 when Moon nominated Cho Kuk, a law professor from Seoul National University, to head the Justice Ministry to advance reform of the prosecution process.

The 2020 Public Prosecutors' Office Act provisions that the chief prosecutor's office falls under the Justice Ministry.

However, Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-yeol maintains he is not subordinate to the justice minister.

The reform agenda proposes establishing an office to investigate high-level corruption and allocate some of the prosecution's authority to the police.

Proposals also included systems to prevent unilateral actions and bias favoring powerful groups such as business conglomerates.

Sensing a diminishing of power, the prosecutor's office has resisted changes and launched an investigation into justice minister nominee Cho Kuk, accusing his wife and daughter of fraud.

Although Cho Kuk was appointed, he stepped down on Oct. 12, triggering further protests and demands for change.

Local media reports say the Cho Kuk incident polarized politics and society in South Korea.

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