Despite a court’s decision, prosecutors of the Yongsan demolition protest tragedy are doggedly refusing to make public a full quarter of their investigation records, sparking concerns about the fairness of the trial.
The residents who had been evicted from Yongsan and indicted for protesting have accused the prosecutors with dereliction of duty Tuesday and appealed to the Constitutional Court for a ruling.
Six defendants, including Lee Chung-yeon, age 36 and the head of a committee of people fighting the Yongsan evictions, brought a dereliction of duty complaint to the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office against the two prosecutors who investigated and indicted them.
Lee and the others were indicted and have been undergoing trial on charges of having caused February’s tragic fire in Yongsan that killed five residents fighting against their eviction and one police officer.
In their complaint, the defendants say that despite a court decision calling on prosecutors to permit the reading and copying of their investigation notes, prosecutors have refused to do so.
They say that failing to submit investigation records favorable to the defendants amounts to a dereliction of duty, and refusing to turn into the court evidence favorable to the defendants amounts to hiding evidence.
The complainants say that prosecutors have been completely negating the intent of the criminal procedure code and violating the defendants’ right to a fair trial in order to systemically cover up the substantive truth behind the Yongsan tragedy for political reasons.
Prior to this, the 27th Criminal Division of Seoul Central District Court overseen by Han Yang-seok granted permission on March 14 to defense lawyers to read and copy the roughly 3,000 of 10,000 investigation notes prosecutors did not submit to the court, but prosecutors have refused to comply. As a result, the trial has crept along, with the defense team refusing to plead.
Lee and the others also appealed to the Constitutional Court on Tuesday, claiming that their Constitutional right to a fair trial was being violated by the prosecutors’ refusal to turn over investigation notes.
Their petition claims that determining whether the police SWAT team’s operation the day of the tragedy was a legal execution of official duty serves as the core point of contention in the defendants’ trial.
They claim that the unreleased notes contain testimony by police officials that would reveal whether the policy operation was legal or not.
Regarding this matter, a prosecutorial official says because prosecutors, too, cannot use trial notes that they do not make public as evidence, the defense team cannot make an issue of them.
Prosecutors maintain that they will not release the notes dealing with the police since they have nothing to do with the evicted persons’ trial.
Seoul National University law professor Jo Guk says prosecutors must unconditionally release investigation notes except under special circumstances that include national security.
He points out that if the undisclosed investigation material includes parts favorable to the defendants, it would indicate they are being unfairly tried.
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