5 Seoul police under arrest on torture charges

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5 Seoul police under arrest on torture charges

Arrest warrants have issued against the five police officers accused of torturing criminal suspects, and President Lee Myung-bak called for stern punishments if they are convicted.

“Torture in criminal investigations cannot be acceptable for any reason,” said the president, according to his spokesman Park Sun-kyoo, who emphasized that human rights must be protected under any circumstances. “[Korea] cannot become an advanced, top-level country when the human rights of its people are neglected.”

Seoul prosecutors issued the warrants late Monday night, charging the Yangcheon police officers with violence and malfeasance.

The National Human Rights Commission said last week that it had received petitions alleging that at least 22 suspects, mostly charged with theft and narcotics use, had been gagged and beaten while being questioned by the so-called “Tough Squad” between August 2009 and March. The petitioners claimed the detectives gagged them, stepped on their faces and twisted their arms after they’d been handcuffed behind their backs.

Southern Seoul prosecutors spent 15 hours questioning the officers on Monday, and took face-to-face testimony from some of the victims who filed the petitions.

“Upon questioning the five police officers, it has been made clear that they tortured the suspects to make them confess,” Assistant Prosecutor General Lee Young-ryeol said.

Kang Hee-rak, the police commissioner general, on Monday confirmed “parts of the violence,” and pointed a finger at the police promotion system that awards officers points for making arrests and obtaining confessions.

“It’s easier to raise progress points if you get your suspect to confess on their own, than it is to find evidence. We’re going to look into a method to decrease points achieved in the case of direct confessions,” he said.

Kang also apologized for the officers’ alleged misconduct, which has raised public furor.

“Raising progress points through violence is something that cannot happen. Checkpoints will be established in the investigation processes to prevent this sort of thing from happening again,” Kang said.

The police officers who were questioned belonged to their precinct’s violent-crime squad, which has a reputation for being “very tough,” according to Kim Hyung-sil, 28, a student.

“I’m not that surprised that this happened, just surprised that the story’s gotten out in public. I thought it was customary for the tough Korean investigators to rough up their suspects during questioning. It’s in the movies all the time,” said Kim.

Part of the testimony released by the Human Rights Commission reported that one victim said a man in a suit looked into the interrogation room when he let out a cry of pain.

When the detectives assured him that everything was fine, the suited man said, “Do it lightly.”

*Material from Yonhap News Agency was used in this report.

By Kim Jeen-kyung, Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]
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