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Tuesday,November 24,2020
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Controversy over Prof. Kang Jeong-koo on campus:Negative Response to Prof. Kang's Arrest
On August 21, the 337-member South Korean delegation, composed of civic, religious and labor activists, returned to Seoul from a weeklong inter-Korean joint celebration in Pyongyang.
Upon arrival at Gimpo Airport, 16 people including Kang Jeong-koo, a professor in the Dept. of Sociology at DU, were led away by officials for questioning about their alleged controversial activities in the North.
Five of them, including Prof. Kang, were handed over to the National Intelligence Service and the other 11 to the police on charges of violating the anti-communist National Security Law (NSL), which lays down heavy prison sentences for unauthorized contact with North Korea, and bans South Koreans from engaging in any pro-North activities.
The South Korean delegation was allowed to visit Pyongyang for Liberation Day events only after signing a pledge not to take part in political activities in the North. But, more than 100 delegates participated in the Liberation Day ceremonies, marking Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule 56 years ago, held at a North Korean ideological monument symbolizing North Korea's unification policy.
In addition, Prof. Kang signed a visitors book at Mankyongdae, the birthplace of the late North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. In the book he left a message saying, "Let's achieve unification by inheriting the Mangyongdae Spirit."
Prof. Kang's message caused political and ideological disputes in the South because it could be interpreted as supporting North Korea's state ideology. Thus Prof. Kang and 6 other persons were arrested on suspicion of violation of the NSL on August 24.
Prof. Kang explained his message: "I never intended to admire Kim Il-sung's family or Juche. It became an issue because the media stretched the interpretation of Mangyongdae Spirit without confirming its real meaning, self-sacrificing spirit for the nation." However, the prosecution rejected an application of review of the legality of his detention on September 7.
Prof. Kang's situation is hotly debated at DU. On August 27, more than 60 Korean veterans staged a protest in front of the Main Building for about three hours, demanding the School Authorities (SA) to stop all students' activities for Prof. Kang. And some citizens made phone calls to staff members of DU demanding that Prof. Kang should be dismissed. The SA is likely to determine Prof. Kang's destiny after judgment.
In the meantime, DU students are still posting their opinion of Prof. Kang on the website of DU Sociology Department (http://sociology.dongguk.ac.kr) as well as "My Insistence" web board in the school's homepage (http://www.dongguk.edu/yeolon_main). Most students agree that the unification of the two Koreas will never be accomplished until we abolish the NSL and end the logic of witch-hunting.
Prof. Kang's situation caused 18 student groups including the Student Council of Postgraduate (SCP), the General Student Council, the Student Council of College of Sociology (SCCS) to organize "DU Strike Headquarters for the Release of Prof. Kang and Abolition of NSL," an ad-hoc committee in Dept. of Sociology.
The executive director of the committee, Kim Jong-yeon, a sophomore in the Dept. of Sociology, said, "We started to do individual demonstrations in support of Prof. Kang in front of the National Assembly building and police stations. About 800 - 900 undergraduates signed a petition and 300 students wrote their own petitions until now."
And students in the Dept. of Sociology are continuing their camping-out demonstration and petition campaign for Prof. Kang's reappointment in Dongguk Hall.
Lim Sun-young, the chairperson of SCCS, said, "We can't understand why the police are investigating him about his past activities before visiting the North, such as his participation in a discussion about Juche held at Seoul National Univ. and Korea Univ."
The SCP also issued a statement right after Prof. Kang was arrested. "We, as scholars, can't accept that this country ignores the guarantee of academic freedom which is written in the constitution. Prof. Kang is a political prisoner because the meaning of his message was twisted. And secondly, we want to inform people who support rightists in politics about the importance of national conciliation," said Lee Joo-whan, the chairperson of SCP." According to the SCP, 850 professors and graduate students signed the SPC petition for Prof. Kang's release.
"It is ridiculous that people without historic consciousness are disputing ideological matters rather than celebrating the first South-North joint Liberation Day," he added.
On the other hand, many professors are reluctant to give their opinions over Prof. Kang's arrest. Some of them, however, opened their mouths carefully.
"It is quite deplorable that Prof. Kang's work for the national reunification of the two Koreas is ignored and regarded as a pro-North activity by the government and some newspapers," confessed a professor in the Dept. of Public Administration who asked to be anonymous.
Prof. Kang already publicly apologized for making our society confused on the day when he was arrested. Some people criticize him for behaving in such a way that was likely to arouse suspicion. However, the negative response on campus to Prof. Kang's arrest begs a question: "If Korea is truly an open society where people can express their ideology and behave according to their faith, isn't it absurd to punish those who do?"

Kim Dong-ho  dgudp@yahoo.co.kr

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