Brutal slaying testing tacit ban on capital punishment

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Brutal slaying testing tacit ban on capital punishment

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The rape and murder of a teenage girl in Busan is testing Korea’s years-long suspension of practicing capital punishment.

The controversy was stoked Tuesday after Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam said the government is “carefully reviewing the possibility of carrying out executions.”

During his visit to Cheongsong Prison, where many of the nation’s worst offenders are housed, Lee ordered the construction of an execution facility there.

Mentioning the names of some high-profile, convicted rapist-murderers, Lee said those who received death penalties from district courts should be held at Cheongsong during their appeals.

The minister also said the vocational training facility at the prison should be relocated and Cheongsong should be transformed into a prison with the maximum possible security.

Lee said he had a resumption of capital punishment in mind when he ordered the construction of an execution facility. However, he added, “We will make the decision very carefully, taking into account public opinion and diplomatic relations with other nations.”

Shortly after the prime suspect in the Busan rape and slaying was arrested, Grand National Party floor leader Ahn Sang-soo urged the government to carry out executions of death row inmates.

“Under the country’s criminal litigation laws, the execution should take place within six months of the final confirmation of a death sentence,” Ahn said. “The Constitutional Court has also consistently ruled that the death penalty is constitutional.”

The last execution in Korea took place in December 1997. As of today, 57 inmates sit on death row nationwide.

Not everybody seemed to want a policy change.

“I am opposed to a continuation of an antediluvian system where the public authority is allowed to take lives in the 21st century,” said National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o. “Taking into account Korea’s international reputation and position, the country must not lose its honor as a nation respecting the right to life.”

Amnesty International has classified South Korea as a death penalty abolitionist in practice.

Another senior GNP lawmaker, Nam Kyung-pil, said yesterday he agreed with a policy of locking up vicious convicts for the rest of their lives. But Nam said that is different from a policy of resuming executions.

While the GNP is split, opposition parties and rights activist made clear their opposition to the resumption of executions.

However, religious groups were divided. While the Catholic, Buddhist and the National Council of Churches in Korea oppose the resumption of executions, the more conservative Protestant group the Christian Council of Korea said death row inmates should be executed.

Those who support executions have argued that carrying out capital punishment is an effective method to prevent crime.

The justice minister’s latest remarks, particularly the order to build an execution facility at Cheongsong Prison, were seen as a strong message.

“Until now, death row inmates have been detained at facilities around big cities,” said Kim Gang-wuk, spokesman of the justice ministry. “Moving them to a maximum security facility at Cheongsong Prison is appropriate, and it is also necessary to build the execution facility.”

Another justice ministry official, however, predicted that the government won’t soon execute death row inmates.

“The final decision is up to the president,” said the official. “It is difficult for the government to carry out executions at this point.”

The international community is expected to react negatively if Korea decides to resume executions.

The European Union has a policy of not signing free trade agreements with countries that practice executions. The British government also recently expressed regret when the Constitutional Court of Korea upheld the country’s laws allowing capital punishment.


By Ser Myo-ja, Park Sung-woo [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
Related Korean Article

잇단 흉악범죄로 찬성 여론 상승, 종교·인권단체 “범죄 대책이 우선”, G20 회의 앞두고 외교 부담도 커


이귀남 법무부 장관이 16일 사형집행 재개를 시사함에 따라 사형제 찬반 논란이 재점화됐다. 부산 여중생 성폭행·살해 사건 때문에 찬성 여론이 높지만 정치권과 인권단체를 중심으로 반대의 목소리도 만만치 않다. 포문은 김형오 국회의장이 열었다. 김 의장은 17일 “공권력에 의해 생명을 박탈하는 구시대적 제도가 21세기 문명화된 시대에도 계속된다는 것을 나는 반대한다”고 밝혔다.

한나라당 남경필 의원도 이날 최고·중진 연석회의에서 “흉악범죄를 절대 용서해서는 안 되고 사회로부터 영원히 격리해야 한다는 데 전적으로 동의한다. 하지만 사형집행 재개는 또 다른 차원의 문제”라고 말했다. 남 의원의 이 같은 발언은 흉악범의 사형집행을 촉구하는 당 지도부의 입장과 어긋나는 것이다.

한나라당 산하 여의도연구소는 지난 12일 전국의 성인남녀 3049명을 대상으로 한 여론조사 결과를 발표했다. 그 결과 응답자의 83.1%가 사형제에 찬성한 반면, 11.1%만 반대 입장을 보였다.

하지만 야당·종교계·인권단체들은 사형집행 재개에 반대하고 있다. 특히 자유선진당 박선영 의원은 2008년 9월에, 민주당 김부겸 의원은 지난해 10월에 각각 ‘사형제 폐지에 관한 특별법안’을 제출한 상태다. 이들은 사형제가 인간의 생명권을 존중하는 헌법 취지에 어긋난다는 입장이다. 또 사형제의 범죄 억제 효과가 미미하고 사형제 폐지가 세계적인 추세라는 것이다.

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