Scandal over justice minister galvanizes South Koreans at protests

Protesters shout slogans as they wave national flags and signs during a rally denouncing South Korea's Justice Minister Cho Kuk in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (AP)
Updated 12 October 2019

Scandal over justice minister galvanizes South Koreans at protests

  • Tens of thousands of protesters staged demonstrations during recent holidays, including in downtown Seoul on Wednesday
  • Moon already faces public discontent over a sluggish economy and stalled diplomacy

SEOUL: A growing corruption scandal over a new justice minister is bringing South Koreans from across the political spectrum out into the streets in numbers rarely seen since candlelight protests helped bring down former leader Park Geun-hye in 2017.

Tens of thousands of protesters staged demonstrations during recent holidays, including in downtown Seoul on Wednesday, and more gatherings are planned for Saturday.

Critics of liberal President Moon Jae-in routinely stage demonstrations in downtown Seoul but corruption allegations against justice minister Cho Kuk’s family have galvanized conservative groups after the political disaster of Park’s impeachment over a bribery scandal.

However, the latest corruption scandal has also led to major demonstrations from the other end of the political spectrum, many of whom participated in the 2016-2017 candlelight protests against Park. They see the investigation into Cho as politically motivated and are calling on the Moon administration to follow through with promised reforms.

The reforms include more oversight of prosecutors’ investigations, barring overly prolonged or late interrogations, and limiting investigations from spilling over into other probes, according to the Justice Ministry.

“I’d never been to a protest before last Thursday,” 34-year-old Lee Soo-min, a mother of one from eastern Seoul, told Reuters while attending an opposition rally on Wednesday.

“But I got so angry over what a hypocrite Cho is,” she said while holding a sign calling for Cho to resign. “Moon is not listening to anyone except his supporters.”

DIFFERING VIEWS

The scandal has broadened into a wider political clash, said Shin Jin-wook, a professor at Chung-Ang University in Seoul.
“The Minister Cho and prosecution reform issue became a catalyst for people to take collective action because it overlapped with older issues, such as differing views on national security, the economy, and politics,” Shin said.

“But because of the diverse views even within each camp, it’s still unclear what direction national opinion will take going forward,” he said.

Moon already faces public discontent over a sluggish economy and stalled diplomacy with North Korea and the Cho scandal has helped keep his approval numbers near historic lows.

His approval rating stood at 43 percent, according to a Gallup Korea survey conducted on Oct. 8 and 10. Another survey conducted earlier this week by pollster Realmeter put Moon’s approval rating at 42.5 percent, the lowest the firm had registered since Moon became president.

Moon has continued to back Cho and told senior aides on Monday that although “public opinion can be divided on political issues, I do not think that means that national opinion is divided.”

Cho’s family is facing probes into irregular investments and his children’s’ favorable treatment in university admission. Prosecutors summoned Cho’s wife for questioning for the fourth time on Saturday, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Cho has not denied the allegations against his family members but apologized for disappointing the people and said on Tuesday he was still committed to reforming the prosecutors office.

“I will carry out my duty until the last moment I am in this position,” he told a news briefing.


Uighur researchers say China running more camps than known

A police officer checks the identity card of a man as security forces keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 11 min 53 sec ago

Uighur researchers say China running more camps than known

  • Rights advocates have generally estimated that China is detaining more than one million Uighurs and members of other predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnicities

ARLINGTON, United States: Uighur activists said Tuesday they have documented nearly 500 camps and prisons run by China to detain members of the ethnic group, alleging that Beijing could be holding far more than the commonly cited figure of one million people.
The East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, a Washington-based group that seeks independence for the mostly Muslim region known to China as Xinjiang, gave the geographic coordinates of 182 suspected “concentration camps” where Uighurs are allegedly pressured to renounce their culture.
Researching imagery from Google Earth, the group said it also spotted 209 suspected prisons and 74 suspected labor camps for which it would share details later.
“In large part these have not been previously identified, so we could be talking about far greater numbers” of people detained, said Kyle Olbert, the director of operations for the movement.
“If anything, we are concerned that there may be more facilities that we have not been able to identify,” he told a news conference in suburban Washington.
Anders Corr, an analyst who formerly worked in US intelligence and who advised the group, said that around 40 percent of the sites had not been previously reported.
Rights advocates have generally estimated that China is detaining more than one million Uighurs and members of other predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnicities.
But Randall Schriver, the top Pentagon official for Asia, said in May that the figure was “likely closer to three million citizens” — an extraordinary number in a region of some 20 million people.
Olbert said that archive imagery from alleged camp sites showed consistent patterns — steel and concrete construction over the past four years along with security perimeters.
He said that the group tried to verify the nature of each site with on-the-ground accounts but declined to give greater detail, citing the need to protect sources.

Activists and witnesses say China is using torture to forcibly integrate Uighurs into the Han majority, including pressuring Muslims to give up tenets of their faith such as praying and abstaining from pork and alcohol.
Olbert described China’s policy as “genocide by incarceration,” fearing that Uighurs would be held indefinitely.
“It’s like boiling a frog. If they were to kill 10,000 people a day, the world might take notice,” he said.
“But if they were just to keep everyone imprisoned and let them die off naturally, perhaps the world might not notice. I think that’s what China is banking on,” he said.
China has justified its policy after first denying the camps, saying that it is providing vocational training and coaxing Muslims away from extremism. Hundreds died in 2009 riots in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi that largely targeted Han Chinese.
The United States has likened China’s treatment of Uighurs to Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, but an increasingly strong Beijing has faced limited criticism outside the West.
China last month secured a statement at the United Nations by nations including Russia, Pakistan and Egypt — which have all faced criticism of their own records — that praised Beijing’s “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.”
The Uighur activist group said it periodically added data including on the destruction of cemeteries in Xinjiang, which was documented in an investigation last month by AFP using satellite imagery.
The movement said it had unsuccessfully asked the State Department for satellite data in hopes of improving its information sources.
US lawmakers have also spoken out increasingly on Xinjiang.
In a recent letter, Representative Jim McGovern and Senator Marco Rubio, who head the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, urged customs authorities to take “aggressive action” to ban imports of goods from Xinjiang made with forced labor.