Eye witness speaks on Park Jong-cheol case
In1987, in an incident that sparked the June Democracy Movement, 23-year-old Seoul National University student Park Jong-cheol was killed while being brutally tortured by investigators for his participation in pro-democracy activities. The case was almost covered up by the police and the Korean government but four months after the victim’s death the truth was disclosed by a whistle-blower.
Ahn Yoo, a 68-year-old former prison governor at Yeongdeungpo Prison and the man who was an eye witness to the police’s attempt to cover up the crime, recently sat down for an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Ilbo for the first time since the incident 25 years ago. He said that he accepted the interview request because he wanted to let people know the truth about the tragedy.
“I felt guilty because I was an eye witness at the time,” Ahn said. “But I wanted to put the details on the record.”
On Jan. 14, 1987, the police were pursuing Park Jong-woon, a student activist, for his involvement in the movement against the Chun Doo Hwan administration. As part of the investigation, the police illegally arrested his friend Park Jong-cheol in order to determine his whereabouts.
The police took Park Jong-cheol to an interrogation room in Namyeong-dong, Yongsan District, which was infamous for the inhumane treatment suspects received there. Park died after being brutally tortured by the police with water and electricity, but the police and the government tried to cover up the incident with false statements and a carefully orchestrated campaign.
At the time, the police said that Park died of a heart attack just a few minutes after the interrogation had started. They said that Park was immediately sent to ChungAng University Hospital but efforts to revive him failed.
But five days later, the police admitted that they had tortured Park after questions about his death circulated in the media and the doctor who had done the autopsy testified that the cause of death wasn’t a heart attack as police had asserted.
The police quickly tried to close the case by arresting the two investigators - Cho Han-kyung and Kang Jin-kyu - involved in torturing Park. Both men were jailed in Yeongdeungpo Prison, where Ahn was in charge.
On May 18, four months after Park’s death, Rev. Kim Seung-hoon of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice disclosed that three more investigators were involved in torturing Park. He said they tried to silence Cho and Kang and asked them to accept responsibility for Park’s death by bribing them.
Rev. Kim insisted that high-ranking officials in the government including the Blue House, the police, the prosecution, the Ministry of Justice and the National Security Planning Agency had cooperated to systematically cover up the incident.
The reverend said that he had gotten his information from Lee Bu-young, now a retired lawmaker, who had acquired the information from a source (Ahn) who had witnessed the investigators’ conversation and later leaked the information to Lee.
Ahn recalled the night that two investigators from the Namyeong-dong Office arrived at Yeongdeungpo Prison on Jan. 17 and asked to see Cho and Kang, who were masked in their cells.
“They asked me not to record anything and even asked me not to be present during the visit,” Ahn said. “I agreed not to record anything but turned down their request that I be absent and told them that I would watch the entire visit because I was in charge of the prison.”
Ahn said that the two investigators offered Cho and Kang 100 million won in cash to take the fall for the death of Park Jong-cheol and also said their families’ livelihoods would be guaranteed. They also said that the government would release them on parole as soon as possible.
After that night, Lee, who was also imprisoned at Yeongdeungpo Prison, visited Ahn to ask him about what was happening to Cho and Kang, telling Ahn that the two men had sung hymns and cried all night.
Ahn told Lee the truth, including the real names of the three additional investigators involved in the torture and bribery attempt. Lee wrote a letter to Rev. Kim and the truth was finally revealed to the public.
Ahn says he had first met Lee in 1978 through a high school classmate.
“Lee and my friend had served in the same company in the military,” Ahn said. “We grew close after having met several times.”
When asked whether he was afraid for his safety when the truth was disclosed, Ahn said, “Lee told me to remove all records related to the case if I had anything left in my office. Fortunately, the entire focus of the investigation shifted to the investigators and Lee has keep my story a secret for the last 25 years.”
By Kim Min-sang, Kwon Sang-soo [email@example.com]