Leftist ruling party in Seoul accused of searching phone records of journalists, foreign correspondents

by WorldTribune Staff, December 29, 2021

Foreign correspondents based in Seoul were among those targeted by a South Korean agency created by the current leftist government to investigate corruption cases involving high-ranking officials.

The agency has been accused of illegally searching the phone records of opposition lawmakers and journalists, including their family members.

Kim Jin-Wook, the inaugural chief of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO). / Yonhap

The Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials (CIO) has allegedly conducted surveillance of nearly 120 journalists from at least 22 media outlets, 39 opposition People Power Party (PPP) lawmakers and some 30 citizens, including members of an academic association critical of leftist President Moon Jae-In’s prosecutorial reform policies, The Korea Times reported on Dec. 28.

The CIO was created by the Moon government in January 2021 and was given broad authority to investigate alleged crimes committed by current and former high-ranking officials, including presidents, prime ministers, members of the National Assembly, judges, and prosecutors, among others, as well as those officials’ family members (spouses, parents, and children).

According to an official at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club (SFCC), two journalists who are members of the club discovered that the CIO searched through their phone records in July and August. An SFCC official told The Korea Times that the organization is reviewing the case and collecting the opinions of its members to decide how to deal with the incident, including whether to issue a statement of protest.

Tara O of the East Asia Research Center, tweeted: “This is exactly why people were so concerned about the creation of CIO / Gongsoocheo, forced through by the ruling Democratic Party of Korea. It is now surveilling journalists, which is illegal.”

Dong Yon Kim, an author and independent journalist, tweeted: “CIO has surveillance over phone records of more than 40 journalists from about 15 News makers including Foreign correspondents to Seoul; Korean media are unilaterally questioning and worrying about the Freedom of Press.”

The CIO has insisted that its examinations of phone records were conducted in a due, legal process and added that it only checked the information of those who made phone calls with some of the people it is investigating.

“But the CIO did not disclose what the investigation was about and how the owners of the phone numbers were related to the cases they are probing,” the Korea Times noted. “That explanation drew further skepticism, because the agency was found to have searched the phone records of the family members of some journalists, including a reporter’s mother who is a housewife.”

The PPP said the CIO’s search of the phone records of citizens is illegal. The PPP said the CIO is violating its duty of maintaining political neutrality as an investigative body, especially given that the next presidential election, slated for March 9, is about 70 days away. The party also called for CIO head Kim Jin-Wook’s resignation.

“The CIO has conducted inspections of media, including journalists covering the political and the legal circles and especially those writing stories about candidate Yoon (Yoon Suk-Yeol). This is proof that the CIO is not serving its original purpose, but rather focusing on protecting the vested rights of the ruling bloc to help it preserve power,” PPP spokesman Rep. Lee Yang-Soo said.

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