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[Newsmaker] Justice Minister’s reform moves spark heated online debate among prosecutors

Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae(Yonhap)
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae(Yonhap)
State prosecutors have posted a slew of online criticism decrying Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s prosecutorial reform and her decision to sideline the prosecutor general from certain cases involving politicians and prosecutors suspected of corruption.

The heated discussion was triggered by an online statement that began “Prosecution reform has failed,” posted Wednesday by Lee Hwan-woo, a prosecutor at the Jeju District Prosecutors’ Office, via the bulletin board at Eprose, the prosecution’s intranet service.

The prosecutor said the ongoing reform initiative, driven by President Moon Jae-in and executed by the justice minister, has “fundamentally failed” despite the overhaul of its systems -- such as rebalancing the investigative rights of the prosecution and police, and the installation of an independent agency that will probe high-ranking public officials.

“The key philosophy and basis of the prosecution reform, which are securing political neutrality of prosecutors and preventing the abuse of prosecuting rights, have been severely damaged by overuse of powers over human resources, inspection, directive rights,” he said.

On Thursday, former Justice Minister Cho Kuk shared via social media a news article published last year. The article accused Lee of violating a suspect’s human rights by arresting him and putting him in solitary confinement for 20 days after he allegedly threatened Lee’s colleague. The suspect was entirely banned from seeing his family or communicating with them while in custody.

Justice Minister Choo shared the same article via social media, saying, “If you come out that way, the only answer is reform.”

Her comment stirred an uproar among prosecutors for singling out a prosecutor who had criticized her and for suggesting her reform measures were a tool to punish those who opposed her plans.

Another prosecutor -- Choi Jae-man, who works at the Chuncheon District Prosecutor’s Office -- fired back at Choo late Thursday with a post that started “About the minister’s SNS post.”

“I cannot help but ask the justice minister if she thinks that the prosecution reform is demoting prosecutors who don’t conform themselves to policies set by the government and the Ministry of Justice,” he said.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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