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South Korea: Judge Who Lampooned President on Social Media Resigns

In South Korea, Judge Seo Gi-ho, who posted an insulting message ridiculing the President on Twitter and his Facebook wall, has resigned amidst controversy.

Although, on the face of it, it appears that the the resignation was due to his poor evaluation result, his fellow judges and activist groups alleged that the judiciary's intention was to gain the favor of the President by punishing Seo, who had made the headlines for lampooning him. They also added that the review process was not transparent enough and Seo had actually scored well enough to be re-appointed.

February 17, 2012, was Judge Seo's last day in office. About a hundred people gathered in front of the Justice building to throw him a small resignation ceremony. Seo's support group, “The Eyes of the People”, gave Seo a new ‘People's Judge’ robe as a way of showing that even though he failed to get re-appointed, the public acknowledged him as a judge.

Seo wearing the new 'People's Judge' robe. Posted by Wiki Tree, Used under CC By-SA 2.0
Seo wearing the new ‘People's Judge’ robe. Posted by Wiki Tree, Used under CC By-SA 2.0

On December 7, 2011, Seo's highly sarcastic post [ko] regarding the President (which is extremely difficult to translate, given the puns and hidden context) created quite a bit of commotion in Twittersphere. It can roughly be translated into something like ‘Don't get intimidated. Or his Highness will give you a big yeot (taffy)” [meaning that the President will cause people great problems. In modern times the Korean phrase "eat yeot" (엿 먹어라) has a vulgar meaning, comparable to using the f-word in English].

It was not good timing, as it came amidst the free trade deal with the United States. Other judges too, turned vocal  and began to post a similar lampooning messages on their social media accounts. However, conservative media blew Seo's case out of proportion and this one post made such a big headline, that Seo was reprimanded by the Supreme Court some weeks later.

Now, after his recent controversial post on Facebook, he has failed to get re-appointed, something which rarely happens to judges in South Korea. (According to one local news report, out of all the judges who held post from 1988, there are only five judges, including Seo, who did not get re-appointed after their first ten year term ended.)

Seo's last day in his office
Seo's last day in his office, Post by Wiki Tree, Used under CC By-SA 2.0

Responses sprang up in Twitter and Blogosphere. Baek Chan-hong (@mindgoodtweeted [ko]:

학교든 직장이든 사람을 내보내려면 평가결과를 알려주어야 함에도 대법원은 근무평가를 통보하지도 않고 서기호 판사의 재임용을 거부. 사법부 스스로 얼마나 불합리하고 비상식적인지를 보여준 것.

Whether it is a school or workplace, when you kick people out, you have to notify them the evaluation result. But instead, the Supreme Court choose not to announce the result and went on rejecting the reappointment of Judge Seo, thereby proving how unjust and irrational they are.

Twitter user @iron_heel, quoting Seo's remark, expressed his support [ko]:

저는 쫓겨났다고 생각하지 않습니다. 10년 담임제 임기를 마치고 잠시 떠나는 것이라 생각합니다. 저의 재임용 탈락은 부당하고 위법입니다. 받아들일 수 없습니다. 소송을 벌일 겁니다 – 서기호 판사 : 꼭 이기시길 !

‘I don't think that I was kicked out. I believe that this is just a temporary break after my 10 year term in the office. But still the decision to turn down my re-appointment is unfair and illegal and I cannot accept it. I will file a lawsuit.’ – Please Judge Seo, you should win!

Chegal Myeong-Hyeon (@Quantuministtweeted [ko]:

@jonghee1 이제 국민 대표판사 1호가 탄생했지요. 서기호 판사님, 꼭 복직하시길…

This means we see the first-ever ‘people's judge’ who will represent people's voices. I really hope Judge Seo is reinstated.

His acquaintance and supporters have even set up a special twitter account @babopansa to consolidate and retweet links about Mr.Seo and to rally people for protests and sign online petitions. This tweet [ko] is from Seo's fellow judge:

이제는 법원이 잘못된 길을 간다고 생각이 들 때, 그 말을 하려고 한다. 그 동안 침묵하는 다수였으나 소리 내는 모난 돌이 정을 맞는다 해도 이제는 침묵하지 않겠다. via 남원지원 김영훈 판사

From now on, I will say something, when I feel that the Court is walking the wrong way. I've been one of the silent majority, but from now on I will not remain silent even though that may cost me pain and persecution. Written by Judge Kim Young-hun of Namwon Province.

This tweet [ko] urged people to sign online petitions:

[ON국민절찬서명중입니다] http://bit.ly/x2Jo3Q 1. 서기호 판사의 복직! 2. 정치권력개입NO! 독립과 개혁! 3. 양승태 대법원장 사퇴! #99% 이시죠?트위터와페이북계정으로서명할수있습니다!

[We are gathering peoples' signatures now] (We demand) 1. Reappointment of Judge Seo. 2. Halt political powers’ influence (on the court) and calling for the independence and reform of the Justice office. 3. Resignation of the Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Yang Seung-Tae. Are you one of #99 percent? Please sign (the petition) with your Facebook and Twitter account!

Another tweet [ko] notified a special (Catholic) Mass that will be held to support Seo.

‘서기호 판사(분도)와 사법정의를 위한 미사'가 19일(일요일) 오후 2시 가톨릭청년회관에서 진행됩니다. 공지영 작가도 참석할 예정이라네요. 일정 확인해보시고, RT 부탁드리겠습니다.

A special ‘Mass for Judge Seo Gi-ho and for judicial justice’ will held in the Young Catholic Association Hall at 2 pm on Feb 19. Writer Gong Ji-young [note: South Korea's best-selling author who strongly voices out her opinion in various social issues] will be there too. Please check your schedule and retweet this message.

Things are heating up also within the justice community. According to one news report, some are predicting that the court's decision to drop Seo, may provoke mass-scale protests among young judges.

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