On Jan. 14, South Korea’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s sentence of 20 years, 18 billion won (US$16.4 million) in fines, and 3.5 billion won (US$3.2 million) in forfeiture against former President Park Geun-hye, who was charged in an influence-peddling scandal that led to her impeachment. This concludes criminal proceedings that have lasted for three years and eight months since Park was indicted in April 2017.
The ruling sends the message that even the president can’t avoid strict punishment if he or she abuses the power delegated by the people and engages in corruption and other illegal activity. We hope that Park will profoundly reflect upon her actions and make a sincere apology, both to Koreans today and before the court of history.
Immediately following the Supreme Court’s ruling, South Korea’s conservative politicians started asking that pardons be granted to Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, two former presidents who are currently in prison.
“I hope that the president won’t be swayed by narrow-minded supporters and members of the ruling party, who are demanding that the former presidents show remorse [before being pardoned]. Nor should he make any excuses about respecting public opinion or try to exploit this in the election,” said Yoo Seong-min, former lawmaker and a member of the People Power Party.
“I call on the president to offer unconditional pardons so that we can finally clear away the constantly growing politics of hatred and division before it’s too late,” said Kim Gi-hyeon, a lawmaker with the same party.
“If the president is committed to public unity, he needs to make the call,” said Park Hyeong-jun, a former lawmaker with the PPP.
Such arguments are baffling. The ink has barely dried on the court’s decision. Asking for a former president to be pardoned as soon as her sentence has been finalized represents the irresponsible abandonment of the principle of “equality before the law,” which has been established with such difficulty in Korean society.
Furthermore, the two former presidents have never made an apology or shown any remorse for their wrongdoing. Instead, they have rejected the court’s rulings, describing them as “political retribution.”
Lee Myung-bak’s absurd response to the Supreme Court’s final ruling in his case was to remark that “the rule of law has collapsed” and “I’m worried about the future of the country.” And Park Geun-hye didn’t even attend the sentencing on Jan. 14, the final hearing in her case.
We’re worried that, if Park and Lee are released under such circumstances, it will actually provoke division and conflict in Korean society, rather than bringing about unity. A recent poll by Gallup Korea found that those who oppose pardoning the two former presidents (54%) far outnumber those who support the idea (37%).
Even the People Power Party, in its official statement on Jan. 14, said that it “respects the decision of the court and accepts it soberly, along with the people.”
“This signifies the realization of the spirit of our constitution, which established a democratic republic, as well as the maturity and development of Korean democracy,” said Blue House Spokesperson Kang Min-seok.
Questions about the pardons will be raised during the New Year’s press conference that President Moon Jae-in will soon hold. We hope that Moon won’t consider making pardons without popular consent.
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