Sewol: Government Publicist Next in the Spotlight
Prosecutors are now investigating South Korean President Park Geun-hye's former chief publicity secretary and the former head of a local broadcaster over their alleged interference with news reports after the deadly Sewol ferry disaster.
Yonhap new service reports that the National Union of Media Workers have filed a petition with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office seeking an investigation into Lee Jung-hyun, who formerly served as Park's public relations chief, and Gil Hwan-young, a former president of local broadcaster KBS. Lee is alleged to have asked Gil to tone down critical reporting of the government and coast guard’s handling of the disaster.
The Sewol sank off South Korea's southwestern coast in April 2014, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing. Many of the victims were high school students on a field trip.
The nation’s Supreme Court has confirmed that the Sewol was overloaded with cargo, that the cargo had not been fastened down securely enough and that the ferry had undergone structural changes.
Sewol was carrying 2,215 tons of cargo at the time of the tragedy even though the maximum amount of cargo it was authorized to carry was 987 tons. The cargo included 410 tons of iron bars, 278 tons of which were bound for the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island.
Around 9 pm on April 15, 2014, the Sewol departed Incheon Harbor on its own, as poor weather caused other ships to remain in port. Following the disclosure of the iron bars that were intended for the Jeju naval base, allegations are being raised that the ship put to sea rashly in order to meet the construction schedule for the base.
Sewol’s captain Lee Jun-seok was sentenced to life in prison, the court saying that he “knowingly and totally abandoned his role when he left the ship fully aware that passengers would drown.” He was among the first off the vessel, while loudspeaker announcements repeatedly instructed passengers to stay in their cabins. Defense lawyers for Lee in turn accused the coast guard of failing in their duty to rescue the passengers.
Fourteen lower ranking crewmembers have been charged and found guilty of lesser offenses, and have received between two and 12 year jail sentences. Dozens of officials and company officers have also been prosecuted in relation to the sinking.