In connection with an incident in which a Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries official was shot dead by North Korean soldiers in the North’s waters last year, the presidential office and the Korea Coast Guard reportedly appealed against a court ruling that they should disclose information except for military secrets to his bereaved family.
The first-trial court ruled last month that Cheong Wa Dae should disclose reports from the Ministries of National Defense and Oceans and Fisheries and its instructions to the ministries.
The court also ordered the Korea Coast Guard to disclose written statements by nine colleagues who were aboard the ministry’s fisheries inspection vessel Mugunghwa 10, together with the slain official and data on its initial-phase investigation.
However, the court rejected the bereaved family’s request for the disclosure of the National Defense Ministry’s recordings of intercepted conversations among North Korean soldiers, on the grounds that they are military secrets.
Despite the reasonable court decision to exclude sensitive information from disclosure, Cheong Wa Dae and the Korea Coast Guard are refusing to disclose information. This invites reasonable suspicion that there may be something that they do not want to disclose.
On Sept. 22 last year, the civil servant went missing presumably by going overboard unnoticed from the fishery inspection vessel in the northernmost waters of the western sea. He drifted into the North Korean waters, clinging to floating matter, and was found and shot dead by North Korean soldiers who were patrolling their waters in a boat.
The Defense Ministry made an announcement to the effect that the official went to North Korea voluntarily over the maritime border. The ministry also said that the North Korean soldiers burned his dead body on the spot after shooting him dead at sea. At that time, the Korea Coast Guard, saying that the official seems to have defected to the North in a panic, disclosed his debt and gambling history.
But his bereaved family said they cannot accept the explanation, arguing that he had no reasons to defect to the North voluntarily and that his debt and gambling problem was never so serious. They have demanded the government clarify the incident and disclose related data.
They filed information disclosure requests with the Ministry of National Defense, the Korea Coast Guard and Cheong Wa Dae, but their requests were rejected.
The son of the killed official even wrote a two-page letter to President Moon Jae-in asking Moon to help him restore his father’s honor. He received Moon’s reply that he will take care of the issue, but there reportedly has been no response from the president thereafter. It is questionable if the reply was made in earnest.
In January, they filed lawsuits asking for the disclosure of information, and the first-trial court ruled partially in favor of them.
Cheong Wa Dae staff did little after receiving the report that the official seems to have been spotted in North Korean waters. A few hours later, Lee was shot dead. They first reported the incident to the president the following day. Moon was said to have been sleeping. Naturally people cannot but ask what the government was doing when a South Korean was shot dead and burned by North Korean soldiers.
Before becoming president, Moon often raised the issue of then-President Park Geun-hye’s “seven missing hours” after the Sewol ferry began to sink on April 16, 2014. He, along with bereaved families of the accident, which left 304 people dead, demanded Cheong Wa Dae clarify what she was doing during those crucial first seven hours of the accident. At that time, Cheong Wa Dae gave no clear explanation, and just repeated that she was in her office working. Now, Cheong Wa Dae is blocking the disclosure of information on what he and his staff did. People are curious about what they are trying to hide and why.