Park trial draws some ‘enthusiastic’ audience

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As former President Park Geun-hye’s trial continues into its eighth week and the public attention fades, more die-hard supporters of the fallen politician are attending the hearings.

It is now almost expected that the moment Park enters the courtroom, somebody in the audience shouts out “Let her go!” or rises to their feet in an apparent show of respect despite security officers’ gestures not to.

But recently, some have become more emboldened.

Park Geun-hye is escorted into the southern Seoul Central District Court for a hearing. (Yonhap)

Last week, a 40-something audience member interrupted the hearing, requesting the judges to allow her to exercise her “right to speak.”

After she was rejected and ordered to leave, the woman began to shout, “I’m a daughter of President Park.” (The former president never married and has no known children.)

On June 20, a middle-aged man was forcibly taken out of the courtroom when he suddenly stood up and gave a big salute to Park. Being dragged out, he shouted, “There’s nothing wrong in showing respect to our president.”

Judge Kim Se-yoon of the Seoul Central District Court, one of the three who are presiding over Park’s trial, declared that any act causing a disturbance in the courtroom will “not be tolerated.” Nevertheless, there have been at least five such incidents since then, including last week’s one involving the purported daughter of the former president.

At the beginning of the historic trial, it was hard for Park’s staunch supporters to get courtroom seats, due to stiff competition. At that time, many ordinary people applied to see Park in the flesh. Roughly 60 seats are distributed to applicants who are randomly selected.

Now with the public’s attention waning and four hearings taking place every week, the hearings have become a chance for Park sympathizers to show their undying support and relay a message of encouragement to her.

Lee Won-yul, 52, one of civilians in the audience, displayed sympathy for Park, who is the daughter of South Korea’s military dictator Park Chung-hee, during a lunch break at Park’s 32rd hearing on July 7.

Lee said he believed in the former president’s “good intentions” to serve the country as her father did.

Park, who was the first woman to become president of South Korea in 2012, had less than one year left in her five-year term, when she was expelled from power in March. She had been mired in a sweeping corruption scandal since late last year, involving her longtime friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil.

She was arrested on a total of 18 charges, including bribery, just a few days after falling from power, and has since been held in a cell at a detention center just south of Seoul.

Park claims her innocence, but prosecutors believe she colluded with Choi to pressure Samsung and other local conglomerates to donate money to foundations they effectively controlled. If convicted of the bribery charge, the former president could face life imprisonment.

Although the vast majority of the public has turned against their former leader, die-hard supporters remain loyal.

“Four days a week of hearings for the old, weak woman is just nonsense. The court must stop violating Park’s human rights,” said Min Joong-hong, secretary-general of Taegukki Revolution People’s Movement Corps, a pro-Park civil group. The group has been organizing protests, demanding Park’s impeachment be annulled, she be released from arrest and the court treat her properly and impartially.

The group filed a petition in the National Human Rights Commission of Korea last month in a bid to “salvage” the embattled former president.

Citing “a great volume of documents and witness records” to review, the court has decided to run four days of hearings per week. It is expected to rule in October, before Park’s detention period expires.

“The unusually tight hearing schedule not only has a bad impact on Park’s health but makes it incredibly difficult for her attorneys to fight the prosecution’s claims. The court disturbances are part of a growing sign of frustration by the public who support our president,” pro-Park activist Min added.

For judges, a verbal warning and an order to leave the courtroom seem so far the best options for the court in the face of growing outbreaks of disturbing events.

Taking further action, including detention and monetary penalty, would be “a difficult thing,” said the court’s judge in charge of public relations.

“For individual acts of disturbance during court hearings, giving severe penalties (to the individuals) is a difficult thing unless deemed absolutely necessary,” explained Judge Rhee Eun-sang.

But Nam Kyoung-kook, a law professor at the University of Seoul Law School, argued. The court should deal more sternly with those who engage in disturbing activities to show their support to Park, he said.

“Such acts not only cause disturbance in courtroom, but they are a challenge to the Constitutional Court’s decision that impeached the former president,” said Nam.

Park, meanwhile, failed to attend two hearings this week, citing pain in her toes.

By Bak Se-hwan (sh@heraldcorp.com)

 

Source  :  The Korea Herald

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