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Civilian members of digital sex crime task force resign as #MeToo prosecutor calls it quits

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Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun / Yonhap
Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun / Yonhap

By Lee Hae-rin

A female prosecutor's resignation in protest against a recent reshuffle in the prosecution has created a domino effect on the in-house digital crime task force team: with 17 out of 22 task force members offering their resignation.

Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun, better known by her nickname "the #MeToo prosecutor" for her courageous disclosure about sexual harassment that she had gone through, resigned Wednesday as she was requested to return to her initial workplace in Seongnam.

The civilian members of the task force team claimed that the Ministry of Justice "trimmed away" Seo before Minister Han Dong-hoon took office and submitted their letters of resignation.

In a statement, they said, "Prosecutor Seo has led the overall operation of the task force with a gender-sensitive and victim-centered viewpoint, which is rare for a prosecutor." The group said the ministry's sudden dismissal of the prosecutor is both deplorable and creates a high degree of skepticism.

Seo gave force to the #MeToo movement in the country by raising sexual harassment allegations against her male supervisor Ahn Tae-geun publicly in January 2018. In May 2020, she was appointed as the ministry's supervisor in gender equality policies and has led the digital sex crime task force that started under the Moon Jae-in administration in August last year.

The task force has conducted several research projects and debates to seek ways to improve the country's countermeasures against sex crimes and made 11 policy proposals, some of which led to bills being passed in the National Assembly.

However, Seo was notified on Monday to return immediately to the Seongnam branch of the Suwon District Prosecutor's Office where she had previously worked. Her term as the task force leader had three months remaining and she was traveling on business when she heard of the reshuffle.

"It was clear what the transfer meant ― with no time given to pack, in such a humiliating manner. So I submitted my resignation," Seo wrote on her social media profile that day.

In response, the justice ministry explained that it considered the necessity of Seo's dispatched service and made the final decision on her transfer.

The resigned members denounced the ministry for the early and sudden removal of Seo from the team.

The group had planned to audit the implementation of their countermeasure proposals with the National Assembly and other government bodies and promote and provide education on fighting against sex crimes until their term ends on Aug. 11, the group said.

According to the group, Seo has been critical of corruption among prosecutors that are close to the Prosecutor-turned-President Yoon Suk-yeol, and the ministry "trimmed her away" before the new minister Han Dong-hoon steps in.

"Thus we, the 17 members of the task force resign to expose the injustice," the group said. The group called upon the new justice minister to take their proposal of recommendations to protect victims from digital sex crimes and continue to work on improving countermeasures.

Park Ji-hyun, the co-chairperson of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea and one of the members who resigned said Seo is "the first victim of (Yoon's) prosecutorial autocracy."

Park criticized that the ministry's decision reflects how little interest the Yoon administration has in fighting digital sex crimes and vowed to follow Seo's lead in eliminating sexual violence and discrimination.

Lee Hae-rin

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