May justice prevailAll nine people indicted in the Osonghoe espionage scandal, who had been sentenced to between one and seven years in jail, were acquitted at a retrial on Tuesday in the Gwangju High Court.
In 1982, five teachers at Gunsan Jeil High School held a ceremony in memory of the victims of the April 19 and May 18 uprisings, and read from a forbidden text. Security authorities falsely accused them of forming a communist organization, added four other people to the group of accused and announced that the affair was an espionage case.
The court found that the evidence submitted by police and prosecutors at the time had been extracted through torture and threats, and was therefore inadmissible. In the first trial, the victims said they were falsely accused, but the court didn’t listen, found them guilty, and threw them in prison. Now, 26 years later, the group has been cleared of the false charges. The Gwangju court even offered an apology, saying it was difficult to imagine the extent of the victims’ suffering.
This is not the first case in which an unjust sentence was later corrected. In the Inhyeokdang Incident of 1975, eight persons were executed just 20 hours after being charged with treason. In January last year, the [Seoul Central District] Court posthumously acquitted the eight victims, along with other people also accused.
Last month, Seo Chang-deok, 62, was cleared of espionage charges after 24 years. While out fishing, Seo was abducted by North Korea. He was later released, only to be imprisoned by the South on charges of spying.
The Supreme Court has discovered a staggering 224 possible wrongful rulings that may have been handed down under authoritarian rule. Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon delivered an apology in September, saying the judiciary failed to fulfill its duties stipulated in the Constitution, causing disappointment and anguish to the people.
If the apology is sincere, the judiciary should step up retrial procedures and quickly clear the victims of false accusations. It also must strengthen its independence so that it will not be influenced by political power. And of course, the state must compensate the victims. Even so, the years that have been lost can never be given back.