Lee Rae-jin (right), brother of an official killed by North Korea’s military while drifting in the sea, and Kim Ki-yun, a lawyer representing the family, speak to reporters outside the Constitutional Court in central Seoul on Wednesday. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
In an escalating legal battle, the family of a South Korean fisheries official killed by North Korean troops filed an appeal asking the Constitutional Court on Wednesday to stop the Moon Jae-in administration’s plan to archive information related to the case as part of the presidential record.
Once archived, the information would not be released to the public for as long as 15 years.
The official, 47, was shot dead and his body set ablaze near the western sea border at around 9:40 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2020. He had gone missing the previous day while on patrol duty.
His older brother, Lee Rae-jin, told reporters outside the Constitutional Court, “Despite losing, Cheong Wa Dae decided to appeal the court’s ruling and is refusing to disclose the information.”
In a first trial held in November last year, Lee won a lawsuit against the Moon administration in which Seoul’s administrative court ordered the release of the records. He said that was when he learned that the Moon administration planned to designate the information as classified presidential archive material.
Lee said the government authorities have claimed his brother, who was a father of two children and an employee at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, was a defector to the North without due evidence. He pointed out that the National Human Rights Commission found the government announcements regarding the killing as entailing a violation of human rights.
“What we would like to know is what the government, which ought to protect its people, was doing to rescue him during the hours he was still missing, and if there is evidence of efforts to defect to the North,” he said. “The first step in finding the truth about what happened is releasing the records.”
He went on, “I ask the Constitutional Court judges to rectify the rights-violating and anti-constitutional ways of the current administration, and show that the rule of law is secure in this country. I also request that President Moon Jae-in allow the family access to the information before his term ends.”
Kim Ki-yun, an attorney representing the Lee family, said “archiving the information against court orders violates the principles of transparency and accountability in state affairs.”
He said using the presidential records laws to deny the bereaved family as well as the public access to the records would amount to “an abuse of those laws.”
He said Wednesday’s appeal seeks to ask the court for an injunction to stop the records from becoming archived, and to suspend the law that provides grounds for treating the records as protected information.
“The constitutional appeal is the last thing that the family can do to find out the truth about his death,” he said.
By Kim Arin (firstname.lastname@example.org