Politicians and the public have appealed for leniency for a middle school student who faces legal punishment for allegedly damaging election posters ahead of the April 7 mayoral by-election in Seoul.
The 13-year-old boy is accused of damaging posters of Park Young-sun of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and Kim Jin-ah of the minor Women’s Party with a wooden ice cream stick at an apartment complex in Seocho-gu early this month, according to the police.
While under questioning he reportedly told police, “There was no particular reason for tearing up the posters of the two candidates, but it was just a joke while passing by with friends.”
Under Article 240 of the nation’s Public Official Election Act, damaging an election poster or banner without a justifiable reason is punishable by up to two years in prison or a fine of up to 4 million won ($3,579).
But since the boy is under 14, the police plan to send him to a family court’s juvenile department instead of filing a criminal complaint.
Juvenile departments are responsible for minor crimes or misdeeds by underage offenders. The department reviews a case and imposes some kind of penalty instead of handing over the accused to the prosecution.
Penalties for juveniles range in severity from No. 1 to No. 10 and can include releasing them to their parents’ custody, ordering attendance at a program, ordering community service or sending them to a juvenile detention center.
“We did not file a criminal case because he is under the age of 14,” said a police official. “It is immature behavior, but it is not a light matter.”
When the news broke, criticism poured in from opposition parties.
Yoon Hee-seok, a spokesman for the main opposition People Power Party, said on Saturday, “It is embarrassing that the standard of common sense has changed as it is ‘not a light matter’ over a 13-year-old student’s tearing of a poster with an ice cream stick.”
He called the police action excessive, recalling that a young person in their 20s who had put up handwritten posters criticizing the president and the government had been indicted on the “bizarre” charge of residential invasion.
“A housewife in her 50s handing out leaflets criticizing the president was even handcuffed because she had no ID card,” he added.
Park, who had remained silent since the election, also voiced her opinion.
She said on her Facebook account Saturday, “I belatedly saw the news as I haven’t been watching the news lately. I read the article and my heart is too heavy. I sincerely ask the relevant authorities. I ask for leniency.”
On the Cheong Wa Dae bulletin board, a petition asking for leniency was posted last week under the subject heading “A middle school student is about to be sent to the juvenile department … Is this for real?” More than 20,000 people had signed it as of Sunday morning.
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org