The Special Investigation Commission on the Sewol Ferry Disaster (hereonout referred to as Sewol Investigation Commission) is preparing for a third public hearing on September 1-2. Despite the South Korean government’s efforts to shut down the commission and its comprehensive investigation of the Sewol Ferry disaster, the Sewol Investigation Commission intends to continue with plans for holding its third public hearing next month.

The Sewol Investigation Commission has composed a list of individuals whom it will call on to testify at the September hearing. The commission released a list of 39 people to be subpoenaed. Included in the list is former Chief Secretary of the Presidential Office, Kim Ki-chun, who will be questioned about whether the government properly responded to the Sewol disaster. The newly chosen chief of the ruling Saenuri party and former presidential press secretary, Lee Jung-hyun and the former president of the Korean Broadcasting Company (KBS), Gil Hwan-young have also been selected to testify about the media coverage of the disaster. Lee Jung-hyun came under public scrutiny when audio recordings of his conversation with a KBS director revealed that Lee had pressured KBS not to air news that was critical of the Coast Guard and the government for inadequately handling the rescue operations for the Sewol disaster.

The topics slated to be discussed at the next hearing will include:

  • The sufficiency of the investigation by the South Korean government of the Sewol Ferry disaster in its aftermath
  • The sufficiency of efforts made by the rescue teams and the government in responding to the disaster
  • The fairness of the reporting and news coverage around the disaster
  • The state’s treatment of victims after the disaster
  • The recovery of the Sewol ferry and investigation into the root causes of the ship’s sinking

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries has argued that the Sewol Investigation Commission has no legal grounds to call the September public hearing as the investigation mandate is no longer in effect. The South Korean government had cut short the commission’s mandate to investigate on June 30. Since the government’s prematurely-forced termination of the investigation process, members of the Sewol Investigation Commission have been protesting to demand that the government re-authorize the investigation mandate to last at least through the original agreed time frame.

The Sewol Investigation Commission has countered the claims made by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries by pointing out that no stipulation in the Sewol Special Act prohibits the commission from holding a public hearing outside the mandated investigation period. The commission also criticized the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries for its lack of cooperation throughout the investigation process and refusal to take responsibility for its role in the disaster. The Sewol Investigation Commission has included four officers of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries on their list of people to testify at the September hearing.

 

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