November 16, 2022
SEOUL – Controversy over disclosure of the list of Itaewon tragedy victims is intensifying with liberal-leaning online media and Catholic priests’ groups releasing the list of victims Monday.
Two progressive online media outlets released a list of 155 people who died in the tragedy, on their website Monday. The list included only their names, without photos, ages or any other personal information of the victims.
“Bizarre memorial altar even without memorial tablets and picture of the deceased have enraged many citizens. Revealing at least names and allowing us to feel the presence of the victims is the way to contribute to true condolences and determine where responsibility lies,” the media explained.
The media said that the victims will not be specified as only their names are disclosed, adding that they hope the disclosure of the list will bring follow-up measures, including the construction of a memorial monument.
The list was then sent to the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice, a group of progressive Catholic priests, which held a memorial mass on Monday for the victims of the Itaewon disaster in Jung-gu, Seoul.
In the memorial mass, priests offered flowers in memory of the victim, and Father Kim Young-sik, the head of the priests’ group, prayed, reading the names of the victims one by one, with a list received from the online media.
Kim pointed to the government and the ruling party as the cause of the disaster, through a TBS radio interview Monday saying, “If praying by calling names is immoral, I will pray in such an immoral way, hundreds and thousands times more.”
“The government and the ruling party is responsible for making people mourn in this forced silence and not clarifying the responsibility of the disaster,” added Kim.
Kim also explained that praying by calling out the names of saints and the deceased are Catholic prayer rituals.
However, the list faced strong criticism from both the ruling and opposition parties as it had not asked for the bereaved families’ consent before the disclosure.
“The disclosure of the victims list is not a matter for politicians or media, but a matter the bereaved families should decide. We express strong regret over the disclosure of the list without the consent of the bereaved families,” said Lee Jung-mi, the Justice Party leader, through her social media Monday.
Prime Minister Han Duck-soo commented about the matter while presiding over the Itaewon accident countermeasure meeting at the Sejong Government Complex on Tuesday saying, “I deeply deplore the list disclosure without even the most basic procedures, asking for consent of the bereaved families.”
The ruling and opposition parties have clashed over the need to disclose the list of victims for weeks, even before the arbitrary release of the online media.
Lee Jae-myung, the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea leader, said at the Supreme Council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 9, that the list of victims should be opened to public, saying, “Unless the bereaved families oppose, the names and pictures should be disclosed, to allow people to properly mourn the victims deaths.”
The ruling People Power Party and even the Justice Party immediately criticized it as immoral, saying that it is inappropriate for the politicians to be the main body to decide whether or not to disclose the list.
In response, Lee posted on his social media Friday, “Is it immoral to mourn in the way the bereaved family wants and call the names of the deceased in front of their portrait?” and retorted that it is the ruling party that abuses the tragedy for political purposes.
After the progressive media released the list amid the controversy, the ruling party is blaming the Democratic Party as the main body that encouraged the disclosure of the list.
Chung Jin-suk, People Power Party’s interim chief, used the phrase, “The Democratic Party’s Itaewon victims list disclosure,” criticizing the list disclosure through his social media post Tuesday.
Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the People Power Party, accused the Democratic Party for being a mastermind of the list release. “Many liberal leaning people and even the one’s directly related to the democratic party took part in the victims list release,” said Joo when he met with reporters after the internal party meeting on Tuesday.
The Democratic Party is reacting cautiously after the release of the list, indicating that the party never led the disclosure of the list.
Rep. Cho Eung-chun of the Democratic Party appeared on SBS radio Tuesday saying, “Whether it is right to disclose the victims list or not have not been discussed inside the party.”
“We have maintained the position that disclosure of the list without consent of the bereaved families should not be made,” he said, making it clear that arbitrary disclosure without consent is different from what the party intended.
Lawyers for a Democratic Society, a progressive organization, also expressed concerns over the sudden release of the victims list. Through a statement Monday, the organization said “As an agent entrusted by the bereaved family, we express deep concern about disclosing or trying to disclose the list without the consent of the bereaved families. This can lead to irreversible infringement of rights of the bereaved families who are suffering from enormous trauma.”