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Police reform still incomplete.

The one-year activity of the Police Reform Committee ended Friday, resulting in dozens of recommendations on ways to better protect human rights and improve transparency in police affairs in general. Comprised of outside experts from academia, the legal sector, police administration and civil rights groups, the committee was set up primarily to outline preventative measures against abuse of power ahead of a possible reorganizing of the investigative rights of the police and prosecution, a much-awaited, long-stalled reform of the latter in Korea No resolution is expected over the high-stakes discussions anytime soon, while some recommendations on less thorny issues were immediately put in place.

Reining in the powerful prosecution was a key campaign pledge of President Moon Jae-in. Greater rights due for freedom of association, assembly The National Police Agency (NPA) is seeking a revision to the law governing public places, following the committee's recommendation after the Constitutional Court found unconstitutional a clause, that bans outdoor rallies and protests within a 100-meter radius of the National Assembly.

Organizers of such a rally are subject to a prison term of up to one year and a fine of 1 million won ($980). Rally participants with knowledge of such action are subject to a fine of up to 500,000 won.

In a unanimous ruling, the court said the ban was too excessive a restriction on the freedom of association and assembly, recommending an exception be granted when protesters pose no imminent and specific threat by partaking in such rallies. The benefit of protecting the public's right to free expression, it added, outweighed the need to limit access to grounds connected to the National Assembly, an institution supposed to remain open to public opinion.

The court recommended the law be revised by the end of next year, adding the law will no longer be in force starting Jan. 1 2020.

The petition was filed by a man who was indicted for participating in a protest against the ratification of the free trade agreement between Korea and the US Police also plan to revise relevant regulation to revise the current law on the forceful suppression of rally participants, in line with the committees' recommendations. The revision also reflected a Constitutional Court ruling that said it was unconstitutional for police to use water cannons containing capsaicin, an active component of chili peppers, on protesters.

In a 7-2 ruling, the court said the law that allowed the use of such irritant-containing water was unconstitutional, adding using the mixed liquid had no basis in law. The court said water cannon use to suppress protesters must only use water Failure to follow the law, it added, is an abuse of government authority that severely infringes upon the public's protection from bodily harm and freedom of association and assembly.

The continued, unrestricted use of such irritants has resulted in high numbers of deaths over the past years. Autonomous police system and investigative prerogatives The committee recommended the implementation of an 'autonomous police system,' whereby police headquarters would be set up in 17 metropolitan cities and provinces, granting them authority to investigate only a limited number of criminal offences involving traffic law violations, sexual assaults, school and domestic violence, as well as drunk-driving, all of which police consider are low-profile cases as opposed to national security-related matters or counterterrorism The measure seeks to decentralize police power currently concentrated under strict and complete control of the NPA, under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, a central government body.

The measure could improve accountability of autonomous police forces, whose organization and appointment would be determined by heads of the 17 cities and provinces, and subject to change in local elections every four years. A gradual adoption would follow beginning with a pilot program in five major cities and provinces starting next year, with full implementation expected in 2020.

A heated debate is expected on whether to dispatch some current NPA officers or hire new officers to create such separate local forces. The issue became a political 'power play' between police and the prosecution after NPA Commissioner Lee Chul-sung said he would like to give only 40 percent of the agency's investigative powers to the envisioned autonomous police units, a stance that confirmed he had no intention of handing over powerful rights to investigate high-profile crimes.

Such a mindset to protect the interests of the police establishment was immediately blasted by Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il at the forefront to fight against outside pressure for his organization to give up and hand over its own powerful investigative rights to police. Moon said the NPA should give full investigative powers to the autonomous police divisions, adding he would reject any discussions over whether the prosecution should let police open, lead and close investigations without its supervision and seek arrest warrants.

Many critics interpreted the remarks as Moon asking police, ''How do you feel now that you are in the same position you put us in?' Cheong Wa Dae criticized Moon's stance, reiterating implementation will be proceeded with as planned. Conflict remains A decades-long conflict between police and the prosecution over investigative rights will continue for the time being, as both sides show no signs of compromise over this issue, which they fear will irrevocably cut their respective authority.

Lee submitted a letter of opinion to Cheong Wa Dae early this month stating the relationship between police and the prosecution should be cooperative, not authoritative-submission oriented. .
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Date:Jun 15, 2018
Words:973
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