Prosecution, ferry owner must empathize with victims' feelings
What has been going on in Anseong, 80 km south of Seoul, for a week now is unthinkable in a law-governed country. Thousands of followers of a Christian sect have formed a human barricade in front of a church retreat there to prevent the police arresting their leader and the de facto owner of the sunken ferry, Sewol.
Yoo Byung-eun, a cult founder-cum-businessman, is flouting the law by repeatedly refusing to respond to a summons from the prosecution while sending his wife and children abroad.
''This is religious persecution," said a spokesman of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea, or the Salvation Sect. ''The ferry's owners and operators are only responsible for the sinking of the ferry, and it is the Coast Guard that must take responsibility for the death of the passengers."
This is one of the most egregious sophistries imaginable. The operator, Cheonghaejin Marine, is suspected of unduly adding passenger cabins to the worn-out vessel purchased from Japan, overloading the cargo without bothering to properly secure it, and pumping out hundreds of tons of ballast water to keep the ship from submerging, seriously compromising Sewol's ability to right itself after tilting.
Company officials were busy manipulating cargo records even after the ship began to list. What can be more hideous than these acts of virtual homicide, intended or not? The captain and crew of course committed a grave sin by deserting their ship and passengers. However, can one expect real professionalism, let alone self-sacrifice, from these non-regular workers who earn, at most, 2.7 million won ($2,400) a month? Who was it that made a fortune by violating all these safety rules and exploiting their employees?
Yoo must appear in court if for no other reason than explaining his positions about all these charges ― if he has any.
His followers express concerns about it turning into a public trial at best or a kangaroo court at worst. We beg to differ. Koreans in general and the bereaved families in particular have maintained relative composure even in the face of extreme bewilderment, grief and anger. Most people know well enough about what happened, and are watching whether the law enforcement authorities are fairly implementing the law.
The prosecution ― or an independent counsel as President Park has suggested ― should bear at least two things in mind in this regard. First, it should not cast its net too wide as if Yoo and his family were responsible for all the bad things related with the tragic ferry accident.
Such a tactic will only give the suspects excuses for claiming that the Park administration has set about to turn them into scapegoats to water down their blunders in rescue operations. The so-called "mainstream" media has also long filled their pages with all kinds of irregularities allegedly committed by Yoo's family, providing grounds for such complaints. The prosecution must focus on problems directly related to the ferry operation that resulted in its sinking.
Second, the prosecution should apply the same strict standards to other violators, allocating blame in exact proportion to the seriousness of misdeeds perpetrated by all parties involved, especially the coast guard and relevant government ministries.
Spontaneous cooperation for investigations and strict fairness and balance can put an end to controversy about scapegoating and buck-passing. Both the Yoo family and the prosecution must do their best not to kill the victims twice.