Every murder, rape and kidnap case shown on the news leads one group of citizens trembling in fear. A second group questions why the media does not allow the faces of criminals to be shown on television. Korean law protects the privacy of criminals under certain circumstances, which results in debatable reactions?should the criminal’s face be revealed to the public? The Argus gathered students with different opinions to discuss the issue.
The Argus: Please share your stance.
Seung-wook: There is an increasing number of brutal criminal cases that have shocked the nation, such as the Cho Doo-soon case in 2008 and the Gangseo District PC room murder in 2018. As these kinds of indiscriminate crimes are repeating, the request to disclose the identities of the criminals is growing amongst Korean citizens. The public is afraid of becoming a victim of crime, so we all need to find a measurement of protection.
Da-young: To add on to his point, the current Korean law specifies that criminals’ faces can be disclosed under the following conditions: first, if the case is considered cruel; second, if there is sufficient evidence to say that the criminal has committed the crime; third, if the suspect is not a teenager; and fourth, if the disclosure will prevent repeated crimes and is for the public good. These conditions are such that the disclosure of criminals’ faces is not irresponsibly made.
Ilies: The first point I want to mention is that the seriousness of the crime does not matter. There is a case that perfectly exemplifies this. I am from Algeria, and in Algeria, there was an incident called the “Black Decade,” and it was a big wave of terrorism. A group of terrorists, 50-100 of them, would encircle two or three villages and kill everyone in one single night. What concerns us here is what happened afterward; the government stated that if the members of the organization surrendered their weapons they would not be considered guilty. It happened, and now these people talk to one another like nothing happened! This is an extreme example, but it proves that the seriousness of the crime does not matter, and not showing the murderers’ faces was the only way to allow the criminals back into society.
Da-young: I agree that the fundamental purpose of the government is to assist criminals in re-entering society; however, therein lies a question: Who is going to care for the citizens that would live near them if the criminals are free to go back into society?
Jin-yi: I am not saying that the rights of criminals are greater than the safety of the public, but I want to mention that sometimes criminals are wrongly judged. Furthermore, people like us would not be held responsible for the false charges the innocent experienced. I want to mention the case of Anthony Porter in 1982 in the United States. He served 16 years in prison before finding out that he was not the culprit.
Da-young: In recent cases in Korea, the percentage of improper convictions is very low. I want to mention an incident where there was a picture claimed to be of Jo Doo-soon on the internet. However, it was later found out that it was a picture of an ordinary citizen. He suffered from a lot of reputational damage; this would not have happened if the government had disclosed the identities of criminals ahead of time.
Jin-yi: Thank you for that point, but I was thinking about a side effect of disclosing criminal faces that exactly contradicts that point. A friend of mine said that she saw a picture of a criminal’s face, and then she saw a civilian that resembled the criminal. She experienced negative feelings about that person even though he was not a criminal.
Seung-wook: To mention the Gangseo District PC room murder that occurred on Oct. 14, 2018, the murderer stabbed the victim about 80 times. It was a severe case in which the public agreed that the suspect’s face should be disclosed. I want to question, what are the benefits of protecting the criminals’ identities from being disclosed?
Ilies: The side effects of revealing the criminals’ faces outweigh the benefits. First, the disclosure would not deter the criminals from committing the crime again. When disclosing the information, it will create a sense of hatred as criminals will lose their job and family, which could lead to poverty or other severe consequences. According to a study by State Commission of Criminality in Washington, social exclusion can lead marginalized convicts to repeat murder by 52 percent, any form of sexual assault by 38.4 percent, and manslaughter by 38.8 percent. In addition, certain studies show that among the convicted, the rate of those who are actually innocent ranges from about 2.3 to 5 percent of all prisoners. What do you want to achieve by disclosing the criminals?
Seung-wook: The prevention of future crimes.
Ilies: However, there is a very thin line between making a person feel guilt and humiliation, which is also considered as a punishment, and that is why human rights organizations strongly disagree with the disclosure policies. The disclosure does not prove a person to be guilty?the jurisdiction has already proven that. Furthermore, it does not prevent these actions from recurring in the future.
Seung-wook: Making a criminal’s identity public can set an impression for the citizens that if one committed a crime, they too would have their identity disclosed and criticized, and they would likely be excluded from the public, even by their families. That itself is prevention of crime.
Da-young: These mostly focused on a single criminal’s human rights, but the general population’s right to know is the priority, rather than the right of one single criminal. Crime prevention and peoples’ right to know is something on which the government should focus. Many western countries are opening up criminal histories and their conditions. And in the case of murder, murder is directly connected to the people’s right to life.
Seung-wook: Countries such as the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and Germany allow the public to see the faces of criminals because it is an official affair, and the people have the right to know. These countries place a higher value on the public’s rights than on the privacy of the criminals.
Ilies: There is not a definite relation between western countries and what is right. It does not make a policy right or wrong. Further, the disclosure does not always bring a sense of guilt. Like the example of the Gangseo District PC room murder, they do not know their wrongdoings because these people could be mentally unstable. Furthermore, social pressure and experiences could further push him or her to that state of mind. We can only assume that humiliation resulted from the disclosure.
Seung-wook: I think you are looking at the bright side of the topic. What if the criminals committed the crime again? What about the victims? We need to secure and protect the lives of the victims. Let us say, for example, victims are living in critical and terrible conditions, and criminals, who have admitted their wrongdoing, are rehabilitated, and have a job again. Is that really fair?
Jin-yi: You guys are only concentrating on the rights of the criminals and the public. I want to bring up another point where we should focus on the purpose of the law because this law of disclosing criminals’ faces is to ensure public safety, which is the main point. However, the law is proven to be ineffective. In a TV show called “True Story of Exploration,” a criminal’s address, name, and face were revealed, and it turned out that the address did not match the actual residence. Therefore, will it really change the lives of victims afterward?
Da-young: First, the probability of the Korean government and the police to be incorrect is very low. Second, I want to add that the disclosure of a criminal face can help second-hand investigations. There was a murder case that took place in Ansan Shihwa Lake in 2015. The police were unable to find the culprit, but after the disclosure of past convicted criminals’ faces, the witness could help the police to catch the suspect.
Seong-wook and Da-young, who debated for the disclosure of criminal faces, emphasized the protection of the public, and the people’s right to know. On the other hand, Ilies and Jin-yi focused on the ideas that disclosure does not cause a deterioration in crime, effects of disclosure can sometimes fall on the innocent, and the inevitable consequences of the disclosure.
Regardless of what one may choose to believe, it is easy to see that different opinions can exist in one debatable topic supported by various reasons. Readers should understand that diverse opinions exist, and taking a step further, readers can also create their own circle of Agora, a public gathering place for further discussions or debate.
By Jang Soo-hyun
Staff Reporter of Global & National Section