Sentence is upheld in Yongsan fire

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Sentence is upheld in Yongsan fire

Finalizing 22 months of disputes over a major fire in Yongsan District - in which one SWAT officer and five squatters were killed - the Supreme Court upheld a sentence that convicted nine protesters on charges of setting fires at a building there in 2009.

The Supreme Court confirmed yesterday that Molotov cocktails thrown by the nine protesters caused the fires at the building and that operations by the SWAT officers were legally appropriate.

“The original verdict is right in that the defendants’ acts prevented SWAT officers from conducting their duties,” the court said. Seven protesters were given four to five years in prison. The other two were also involved in the incident, but the court determined that their role in setting the fire was less significant than that of the other seven protesters and they were given two and three year sentences, respectively.

Residents evicted from a redevelopment site in Yongsan took over the five-story Namildang Building on Jan. 19, 2009, demanding higher compensation for properties they owned that were to be demolished by a government-led redevelopment project.

When police dropped out of a helicopter and onto the roof of the building to eject the squatters on Jan. 20, a fire broke out. Prosecutors said on Feb. 9 last year that the squatters threw paint thinner and Molotov cocktails at the building. Initially, there was no decision in the first trial, which started on April 22, 2009, because lawyers and defendants repeatedly argued that prosecutors did not open the fire investigation records. Eventually though, the court convicted the squatters on Oct. 28, 2009. A second trial this May confirmed the first decision.

The defendants said they will appeal the case to the United Nations in regard to human rights violations.


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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