MINBYUN’s Official Statement on the Application for Commencement of Disciplinary Action submitted by the Prosecutors’ Office against the MINBYUN Member Lawyers who were defending Human Rights and Social Justice
On 3 November 2014, Soo-Nam KIM, the Chief Prosecutor from the Seoul Central District of the Prosecutors’ Office (‘the Office’) officially submitted to the Korean Bar Association the application for commencement of disciplinary action (‘the discipline application’) against seven human rights lawyers who are members of MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, a legal NGO based in Seoul Korea on the grounds that the lawyers violated a provision of professional ethics stipulated in Attorney-at-Law Act that prohibits lawyers from damaging their dignity as attorney on and off duty when they are defending separately the rights of laid-off union workers, a North Korean defector, and an arrested protestor.
An attempt of the Office to have disciplinary proceedings targeting MINBYUN lawyers commenced makes no sense at all. First, five MINBYUN lawyers organized a protest in front of Dae-han-mun in compliance with the court’s order that cancelled dispositive prohibition on outdoor demonstration notified by the senior superintendent from the Nam-dae-mun Police Station, as well as decision of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea on urgent appeal with respect to this matter. The investigatory research conduced by the Seoul Bar Association concluded that the police wrongfully interfered with exercise of the right to assembly and, thus, requested to further disciplinary measures and criminal proceedings against persons responsible.
Second, two MINBYUN lawyers in separate cases advised their clients to plead the right to remain silence for their best interest during and relating to the investigation conducted by respectively the National Intelligence Service (‘NIS’) and the police. Now the Office’s discipline application based on the claim that the lawyers forced the clients to exercise the right to remain silent in an attempt to obstruct on-going investigation is unheard of and clearly in a grave violation of the constitutional rights granted to the attorney in a professional relationship with the client, which may amount to abuse of power. This is a scene that we used to encounter a long time ago when the Korean democracy was suffering under the former dictator Chung-hee Park.
Above all, seven MINBYUN lawyers have been a human rights defender, fighting against the government’s infringement on the freedom and fundamental rights envisioned in our Constitution. They are the ones who succeeded in rendering a senior police officer criminally responsible for the abuse of police power in dealing with the protests relating to ‘Ssangyong layoffs’ issue. They are also the ones who revealed the world that the NIS and the Office illegally fabricated evidences to prove that a North Korean defector was guilty in a fake espionage case. Finally, they are the ones who have been in frontline in defending exercise of free speech in the protest as well as in questioning about socio-structural problems in terms of the ‘Ferry Sewol’ accident.
The Office’s discipline application is no more than a reprisal on the lawyers who have fought for human rights, social justice and the truth. We believe that the Office is intending to disseminate a message of fear that any lawyer who confronts even as a professional capacity against the government as well as its policies and decisions may be disbarred. We regard this kind of action as retaliation, as if the Office would give up functioning as public power, targeting officers of the court who tried to defend exercise of the constitutional rights of their clients.
Furthermore, although the alleged issue in the discipline application must be dealt with in court the Office has been playing with the media to publicize as if such allegation had been confirmed guilty, which amounts to a violation of the principle of presumption of innocence. It is regretted that the Office should have been more cautious in initiating such action against MINBYUN lawyers who have raised ultimate issue of abuse of power.
The Attorneys-at-Law Act requires the president of Korean Bar Association to apply disciplinary disposition in order to officially initiate disciplinary proceedings, which is designed to screen out excessive and indiscriminate discipline cases. We believe that Korean Bar Association will make a sound judgment on this matter.
MINBYUN is going to disclose problematic issues regarding indiscreet indictment and discipline application and prove innocence of our defense lawyers through close cooperation with NGOs and other organizations in our society as well as the international community. In the process, we are going to take all possible measures, legal and non-legal at our disposal to protect not only our human rights defenders but also the constitutional principles that are at risk.
The Office has no grounds to apply for the disciplinary disposition. It was not a long ago that the Office was disgracefully criticized for fabrication of evidences in a false espionage case against a North Korean defector. Once again, the Office is wasting time and abusing power given to protect public interest and human rights. MINBYUN urges that the Office withdraw its discipline application immediately.