We had to attend seven trial sessions. Numerous witnesses were heard, including, at our lawyer's insistence, one of the police officers who had been at the scene. The highlight was a voice record regarding the decision-making processes in a major Seoul apartment complex which could, "for fear of revenge," as the judge recognized the anonymous representative's request, only be played while the audience was excluded.
The judge at the Seoul Southern District Court came to the conclusion that the construction we were accused of having obstructed "was stopped because the accuser (a private unit owner like ourselves who was conducting the construction on a Sunday night) could not provide his legitimate authorization document." The judge also recognized that "there might have been both a substantive defect and a procedural defect of this construction."
Nevertheless, we have been ruled guilty, well, "sort of guilty" as our lawyer tried to explain the meaning of "sentence suspension" (in contrast to "execution suspension"), a decision even rarer than a nearly impossible "innocent" verdict after indictment. By sacrificing our time and spending thousands of dollars on legal fees, we achieved a reduction of the fine from $450, as determined in the prosecutorial penalty order, to $270 each ― which we do not have to pay now "on probation." The criminal record will mercifully be eliminated if, for the next two years, we don't ― do what?
The lesson is simple, as practically the only way to "prove innocence" in Korea once you are accused and indicted is, as our lawyer explained, "to prove that you were not there": Look away, even run away, when you see wrong things happening!
Don't get involved! Never call others to a suspicious scene! Don't even call the police as they, too, like in our case, might suggest a reasonable clarification first! You better ignore obvious irregularities, or you might commit a crime in Korea as, like our judge argued, "the obstruction cannot be denied because the construction was being carried out before the legitimate evidence was demanded in the argument."
The local power group which is ruling our neighborhood, and notorious for intimidation in the name of the law, knows such "legal logic" well. That's why the construction was secretly conducted on a Sunday night, without prior notice to related residents! I was not vigilant enough, not coming to the scene until 5.25 a.m., when the irregular action "was already being carried out." Power abuse can win "by law."
Like many others before, I was humiliated by the authorities of this country for my engagement for democratic representation in our neighborhood.
The author (email@example.com) is a teacher in Seoul.