[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]Death sentences for activists; a student’s battleJuly 11, 1974
Just seven months after the administration of former President Park Chung Hee ordered severe punishment for a group of activists, the court sentenced seven people in the group to death on this date.
The group, called the Min Cheong Hak Ryeon (National Democratic Young Student League), was composed of students from major colleges in Seoul, including Seoul National, Yonsei, Sungkyunkwan and Ewha Womans universities, according to the government’s report.
The government accused the group, as well as an adult activist group in South Korea called In Hyeok Dang (People’s Revolutionary Party), of being puppets of the North Korean regime.
Like in Hyeok Dang, the government claimed the student group was trying to incite the citizens to revolt, overturn the South Korean government and seek to establish a labor-centered government.
In April, the government had arrested more than 250 people from the two groups, and 14 were given the death penalty. The rest were sentenced to up to 20 years in jail.
But when the news spread, the international community denounced the South Korean government for “inhumane” judiciary decisions. The U.S. Congress discussed whether to cut military and economic support following the incident.
A few months later, the South Korean government admitted that the Min Cheong Hak Ryeon case had been fabricated. The government had taken the lives of innocent people.
July 16, 1988
After years of litigation, prosecutors on this day asked a court to sentence a policeman named Moon Gwi-dong to 15 years in prison for sexually molesting a female college student while she was being questioned behind closed doors.
But for the prosecutors to have the courage to ask the court to hand down the long sentence, the student had to wage a long series of battles alone.
Kwon In-sun, 22 at the time, was arrested in the summer of 1985 while she was working at a factory. To get the job, she obtained a fake identification card to hide the fact that she was a senior at Seoul National University.
This was a time when many students were involved in demonstrations for democracy and labor rights. So, Ms. Kwon became a factory worker, but disguised her student status so she would not arouse suspicion that she was an activist.
She eventually was arrested, and police accused her of being involved in leftist activities. She denied such involvement, and the charges became more severe. That was when Mr. Moon, an investigator, sexually molested her.
She hired a human rights lawyer, Jo Yeong-rae, another prominent figure in Korea’s modern history, to sue Mr. Moon, and news of the case spread across the country.
It was a difficult choice for a young woman to gain such attention, since Korea was still very conservative and lived up to the tradition that unmarried women had to be chaste.
But Mr. Moon countersued, saying her claims were all lies. Unfortunately, the media and the military-backed government decided to believe Mr. Moon.
In many newspapers, Ms. Kwon was identified as “college student Kwon” who used her sexuality to promote her leftist activities.
Prosecutors accused her of being an “F” student,” a “runaway delinquent” and a “far-left activist” who would lie about her virginity to help the North.
Such statements created an uproar among civic groups.
“Who is this young woman, whose name nobody knows but whom the entire country knows by an incident that she was never guilty of? Why is it that the entire society is trying to kill her?” Jo Yeong-rae, her lawyer, said in famous oral proceedings.
Nevertheless, Ms. Kwon was sentenced to 18 months in jail for forging her identification. Fortunately, she was released on probation a few months later. She is now a professor at Myongji University, teaching women’s studies.
Mr. Moon, however, was sentenced to five years in jail by the Supreme Court, and served his sentence.
by Lee Min-a
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