05-27-2010 18:23
Power, justice and truth

By Kim Sung-soo

``Truth is not justice. Power is justice. Withdraw your lawsuit against the head of the Commission or you'll get hurt!"

These are the words that I've been hearing many times from a colleague of mine ever since I filed a lawsuit for defamation against Lee Young-jo, president of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

I know that he means well and is just concerned about my welfare. In fact, the point he makes is not entirely absurd.

This could be the reason why only two Koreans and one American decided to participate in the lawsuit against Lee among the three Koreans and three Americans who participated in the translation and proofreading of ``Truth and Reconciliation," a book which was banned for distribution by Lee.

It was sad to hear the non-participating members say that they could not participate in the lawsuit ``in fear of potential retaliation by Lee."

In March, during an official meeting, when I was still working at the Commission, Lee yelled at me, ``Shut up! I know your IP address."

I retorted, ``Mr. President, is it okay in a free democratic society to deny an employee to speak during a meeting?" That's when he stopped his yelling and restrained himself.

Recently I heard that he ordered his close associate to find out my new place of employment. It saddened me to know that he was seeking me out. What does he plan to do? He must be one of those people who believes power is justice.

English is not a religion or a sanctuary. Anyone who studies hard can reach a certain level of fluency. The translators of the TRC's banned book have studied more than 10 years in English-speaking countries such as the U.K. and U.S.

They are people with doctorate or master's degrees who make a living as professional translators. As for the proofreaders, they are educated Americans with master's or doctorate degrees who have been working as professional proofreaders for more than five years.

The translators and proofreaders, including myself, who participated in the censored text, dedicated themselves to the project and were proud to have their names credited in the internationally distributed book. Not only did this involve professionalism, but also a sense of responsibility.

However, as soon as Lee took office as the chief of the TRC last December, he banned the distribution of the book on grounds that ``most of the English translation was terrible."

The irony is that Lee, a senior official of the Commission at that time, was actually one of the people who approved the publication of the English version of the Commission's findings before he became president.

In an April 5 article by The Korea Times, a journalist asked the TRC, ``On what grounds did you decide to ban the distribution of the English book?"

Lee Ok-nam, PR chief at the TRC, replied, ``We decided to stop the distribution of the book based upon an evaluation submitted by a native English-speaking proofreader."

However, Benjamin Applegate, who took the job, told The Korea Times that he did not make such an assessment for the TRC, though he made a summary of the errors he found in the book.

Yet considering that the ban was enforced in early December 2009, this evaluation which was submitted in March 2010 logically could not have been considered at all.

Andrew Salmon, a correspondent for The Times, said in an interview with The Korea Times that the ban should be lifted.

He pointed out that 21st century Korea is still an ideological battle ground, saying, ``The question facing the Commission is whether it can staff itself with professionals whose personal ideologies do not affect their work." And he said, ``Uncomfortable as it may be, the truth should be out."

Correct. No matter how inconvenient it may be, the truth must be revealed, especially at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is my reason for taking legal action. I believe that the banning of this book by the Commission is a serious violation of freedom of speech and expression.

In a free democratic society, one must be able to freely express oneself despite his or her political or ideological preference. Lee's ban on this book is not only anachronistic but it goes against the principles and values of democracy which holds precious the freedom of speech and expression.

Lee spoke in an interview with ``Weekly Donga" on March 9 to state his position regarding the controversy. He said, ``This was the only English book published by the Commission. It's the face of the Commission shown to foreigners, but there were many grammatical and syntax errors, and awkward expressions."

He continued, ``The introduction written by the former president (of the Commission) was relatively okay because he received the help of a professional translator and it was proofread, but the rest was terrible."

In response to this, I posted an open question on the Commission's online bulletin board. I stated, ``Not only was the president's introduction assisted by professionals, but the entire text was proofread three times by three different professional proofreaders."

And I added, ``Furthermore, you (Lee) were given more than three months to review the text before approval, but chose not to correct any of the `terrible' parts. Is this not a neglect of duty? And why do you refuse to reveal which parts are incorrect?"

Until the truth is revealed, I will continue to fight this battle. Just like my colleague was trying to warn me, I too understand that truth and justice do not always prevail. I know that I could get hurt for standing up against power and authority.

However, as the late prominent dissident Ham Sok-hon once said, ``If you believe you are just, you must contend even with the absolute being, God." That is why I will take this libel case to the end until the truth is revealed.

Kim Sung-soo, who has a Ph.D. in historical studies, was head of the international cooperation team of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). He was also the author of the ``Biography of a Korean Quaker, Ham Sok-hon." He can be reached at wadans@empal.com.

The views expressed in the above article are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial policy of The Korea Times.