[Editorial] Protect whistleblower

2021. 1. 29. 05:30
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Ministry mulls punishing informant of illegal travel ban on charges of leaking secrets

On March 23, 2019, Incheon Airport Immigration Office received a document requesting an urgent ban on foreign travel against former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui. 

Based on the request, Kim was stopped from boarding a plane about to depart for Bangkok 12 minutes later. 

Five days earlier, on March 18, President Moon Jae-in had instructed a “thorough reinvestigation” into a case in which a builder had treated a vice justice minister of the previous administration to sexual entertainment. 

Earlier, the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office dropped the case in 2013, clearing him of the suspicions. 

At the time of the instruction, Kim was not booked on any charges. There are suspicions that Moon’s instruction may have affected the legally groundless ban. 

Recently, a whistleblower exposed that the procedures to ban Kim from leaving the country were stained with illegalities and that the document was fabricated.  

Based on the whistleblower’s report, the prosecution has been investigating the illegal travel ban. High-ranking officials of the ministry and a prosecutor are being mentioned as suspects. 

Without the revelation, the government’s illegality might have been buried. The whistleblower was of great help to the investigation and deserves protection for exposing a violation of the public interest.  

However, the Justice Ministry is considering punishing the whistleblower on charges of leaking secrets. It is deplorable to treat the public interest whistleblower like a criminal. 

Cha Gyu-geun, the commissioner of the Korea Immigration Service, an agency under the ministry, said in a radio interview Monday that he was considering accusing the whistle-blower of “leaking secrets related to official duties.”

His words are inappropriate, considering he is one of those accused.

Justice Minister Park Beom-kye said at his confirmation hearing that he would look into the issue in light of whether the whistleblower leaked secrets.  

Cha also questioned the whistleblower’s intention, pointing out that the informant gave the information to the main opposition People Power Party.

The whistleblower did that probably because suspects are sympathetic to the ruling party. 

The information exposed by the whistleblower may be controversial but raising issue with the legality of whistleblowing is as good as trying to silence the truth. 

Under the Act on the Protection of Public Interest Whistleblowers, even if whistleblowing contains secrets related to official duties, the whistleblower should not be deemed to have violated his or her professional obligations to confidentiality. In his 1997 presidential campaign, Moon pledged to better protect whistleblowers.  

Most corruption is exposed by whistleblowers from the inside. If they are not protected by the government, who will raise the alarm, and how can society eliminate the government’s illegality? Trying to identify and punish anonymous informants will certainly daunt potential whistleblowers. 

In 2016 when Ko Young-tae and Roh Seung-il revealed Choi Soon-sil’s meddling in state affairs, the Democratic Party (then an opposition party) praised them as righteous people. 

The party flattered Lee Tan-hee, a former judge, for raising suspicions that Yang Sung-tae, chief justice in the days of President Park Geun-hye, tried to influence the outcomes of diplomatically or politically sensitive trials. 

But it condemned whistleblowers who offered information unfavorable to it. An enlisted soldier raised suspicions about special favors given to former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s son when he served in the military, but the party tried to depict the whistleblower as a liar. It applies a double standard to whistleblowers. 

The Justice Ministry may be embarrassed at the prosecution’s investigation into the case involving the ministry and possibly Cheong Wa Dae. Be that as it may, the ministry must not try to suppress whistleblowers. 

A related issue of concern is how the ongoing investigation based on the information will proceed. Lee Sung-yoon, chief of the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office, who is regarded as loyal to the current administration, is suspected of having slowed the process of the investigation intentionally.

Justice Minister Park said it would be right to refer the case to the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials. Even if the case is transferred to the office and the prosecution stops its investigation, the whistleblower must be protected. 

Illegality exposed about the travel ban on Kim undermines procedural democracy. The truth must be confirmed. What we need to see is truth, not a finger pointing at it.

<ⓒKoreaHerald(www.koreaherald.com)무단전재 및 재배포 금지>

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