National Intelligence Service (NIS)
Catholic priests speak out against NIS political interference
Manifestos and other actions show signs of broad public backlash to scandal
By Kim Kwang-soo and Jung Dae-ha, Busan and Gwangju correspondents
On July 25, the priests of the Busan diocese of the Catholic Church released a manifesto titled, “Justice Does Not Die.” The manifesto denouncing the National Intelligence Service (NIS) is the first release by the priests in 26 years.
The priests gathered at the Catholic Center in Busan, as they did in June 1987 at the time of the South Korea’s democratization movement.
About half of the 250 active priests in the Busan diocese were present. (There are 350 priests in the diocese altogether, but this number includes older priests who have retired and others who are overseas.)
“As if illegally interfering in the presidential election was not enough, the National Intelligence Service released the transcript of the 2007 inter-Korean summit, even though it was classified, in order to conceal its flagrant disregard for the laws of the land,” the priests wrote in their manifesto.
“Furthermore, the Saenuri Party (NFP) illegally obtained the transcript and put it to use in the presidential election. These acts are completely shocking.”
“The Park Geun-hye administration must not forget that, if it fails to cut off ties with the mistakes of the past and take responsibility for these actions, it could arouse the resistance of democratic citizens such as was seen in the April 19 Revolution, the Busan-Masan Protests, and the June Democratization Movement,” they warned.
The Busan diocese was the first of 15 Catholic dioceses in South Korea to issue a manifesto. Following this, about 200 priests who are part of the Gwangju Diocese decided to release a manifesto next week.
After the Gwangju Democratization Movement in 1980, the Gwangju Diocese asked the military junta led by Chun Doo-hwan to apologize for its use of excessive force against the citizens of Gwangju. The fervor behind the manifestos denouncing the NIS is as fiery as it was during the June 1987 democratization movement.
Altogether, as many as 18,400 people have come together during the past month or so that these manifestos have been appearing. The manifestos have been written by university students, professors, young people, and professionals.
About 11,000 people were behind the manifestos issued over two months in April 1987. Those manifestos were the prologue to the democratic uprising that took place that June. The manifestos criticized president Chun Doo-hwan’s declaration on April 13, 1987, that reform of the constitution would not go forward.
One striking feature of these manifestos is that the people writing them are younger than in the past. Also, ordinary citizens are voluntarily signing the manifesto without intellectuals taking the lead.
In 1987, it was university professors who began announcing the manifestos. But this year they were inspired by a June 20 statement released by the Seoul National University Student Union (not generally regarded as an activist organization), calling for manifestos to be released.
Another major difference from 1987 is the approximately 800 high school students who have taken part in writing the political manifestos.
In addition, Catholic organizations like the Justice and Peace Committee or the Association for Justice were not involved in the manifestos released by the priests from the Busan Diocese, as they had been in 1987.
Instead, this manifesto was created over four days, after 121 priests spontaneously began to exchange emails and text messages on July 20.
Only four days after Pyo Chang-won, former professor at the Korean National Police University, began a campaign on Daum online cafe Agora to petition for a parliamentary investigation, he had gained 100,000 signatures and was able to submit the petition.
Some point out that, even if people are busily writing manifestos, the number of citizens who have actually taken to the streets to raise their voices has decreased. The answer is that changes in the political and social situation must be taken into account.
“Back in 1987, the government repressed the citizens using severe physical violence, but today there are more media and political parties that represent a space for public debate. There are an increasing number of ways to make oneself heard without protesting in public,” said Lee Tae-ho, secretary general for People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD).
“The people are waiting to see what happens. If these problems are not solved through public debate, the people will make themselves heard through whatever measures that requires,” Lee said.
“Even now, citizens keep coming out to the public squares every weekend,” said Jang Dae-hyeon, chair of the executive committee for the Korea Alliance for Progressive Movement. “Judging from the amount of interest that they are showing even though this issues doesn’t affect their lives directly, I think that we could see a huge outburst of rage depending on what happens with the parliamentary investigation [into the NIS’s political interference].”
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Vigils for NIS reform all around the country
Citizens gather outside Seoul City Hall on July 6 for a candlelight vigil to protest the National Intelligence Service’s interference in last December’s presidential election (main photo). From above to bottom, the bottom photos show protests in Busan, Daegu and Gwangju. (by Kang Chang-kwang, and taken from social media)
Citizens gather to protest NIS political interference
Gatherings have been held across the country where citizens have voiced their concern over democracy in S. Korea
By Eum Sung-won, Um Ji-won and Lee Kyung-mi, staff reporters
“Anyone can see that the National Intelligence Service tried to manipulate the public and influence its opinions.”
These remarks by Park Ju-min, an attorney with MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, were met with a round of applause from the audience. The event was a “talk concert” held in front of the Dongwha Duty Free Shop building near Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on June 28. Titled “The NIS Scandal: Pyo Chang-won, Jin Sun-mi, and Park Ju-min Speak Out for Truth and Justice,” it packed the plaza with an estimated crowd of 1,500 (1,300 by police estimate).
Describing the circumstances of the NIS’s alleged election meddling, Park said the organization was “trying to help Park Geun-hye get elected President.” After speeches by Park and Jin, a Democratic Party lawmaker, the stage was taken by Pyo, a Korean National Police University professor who called the scandal “a revival of McCarthyism.”
“Anyone who criticizes the administration even slightly gets branded as ‘a North Korean sympathizer,’” Pyo said. “They’ve divided the public in half, describing even official political parties as ‘internal enemies.’”
He went on to draw parallels with the resignation of US President Richard Nixon.
“Nixon ended up resigning, even though the Watergate scandal was just an unsuccessful attempt by five civilians to install bugs in the Watergate Hotel,” he said. “It wasn’t even a patch on what the NIS did.”
After the talk concert came a candlelight vigil. Job-seeking twentysomething university students on their vacation, busy working people in their thirties and forties, and people in their fifties worried about their country all came out in force to hold candles and demand democracy. In addition to Gwanghwamun, similar events took place at Seomyeon in Busan, Geumnam Road in Gwangju, Dongseong Road in Daegu, and the West Plaza of Daejeon Station.
Korea University student Lee Seung-hoon, 22, said he had taken a break from studying at home for the government service exam to attend the vigil. “It’s obvious that something is wrong,” he said. “We need to try to fix the country. I came here in order to understand the truth about this case, and also because I was angry.”
Kim In-gyeong, 59, said she had taken a break “from picking garlic in North Chungcheong Province” to come to Seoul for the protest.
“The last presidential election was just full of irregularities,” she said. “Sure, we voted, but the voters lost their rights.”
Some of the participants were parents of young children. Song Su-ik, 40, arrived with two daughters, one five and the other eight years old.
“I used the example of a homeroom class leader election to explain to the kids what was wrong with the NIS’s manipulation of opinion in the last election,” Song said. “I brought them here because I wanted to teach them more.”
Shin Seong-eun, 37, came from work to light a candle.
“I wanted to go to the [earlier] rally denouncing the NIS, but I wasn’t able to get off work,” Shin said.
“That we can live even like this today is thanks to democracy,” Shin added. “All of that came crashing down with the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations. There needs to be a parliamentary fact-finding investigation.”
Kim Seong-hee, a 52-year-old white-collar worker, said the rally to denounce the NIS was her first. “What has emerged from this is that the NIS was illegally and systematically involved in politics,” Kim said. “As a citizen, I’m frightened to think that this kind of thing could happen again if we ignore the law-breaking and do nothing.”
Lee Tae-ho, 58, said he had been attending rallies criticizing the NIS for the past week.
“We can’t let the Republic of Korea turn into this kind of country,” he said. “I think this scandal has taught the younger generation that you don’t have to live a proper life, that success justifies anything. It’s horrible.”
Meanwhile, a court permitted a rally against the NIS that had previously been disallowed by police.
The 5th administrative division of Seoul Administrative Court, under judge Kim Gyeong-ran, accepted a request from the group People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) to suspend a ban on outdoor rallies by Seoul Jongno Police Department. PSPD received the notice from police after reporting plans for “citizens’ culture festivals to urge a fact-finding investigation into the NIS political machinations” in front of the offices of the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper in central Seoul between June 24 and July 21.
The court instructed police to allow rallies through July 10, with plans to consider a possible extension at a later date.
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