Victim of Chun regime recognized as an activist

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Victim of Chun regime recognized as an activist

A Seoul court yesterday recognized a 74-year-old former inmate of the Samcheong Rehabilitation Center as a pro-democracy activist, the first time for a victim of the notorious educational center led by the military strongman Chun Doo Hwan.

The Seoul Administrative Court ruled that Lee, who was forcibly admitted to the Samcheong center after a dispute with a neighbor in August 1980, should be recognized as a pro-democracy activist because he “stood up against the authoritarian rule” and by doing so, “contributed to the establishment of the democratic constitutional government.”

The ruling made the elderly Lee eligible for state compensation in recognition of his efforts to help establish a democratic Korea.

After being coerced to give an admission of guilt, Lee protested inhumane treatment at the center when inmates were beaten by the guards.

Because of the protests, Lee was sent to the center’s “special education section” for what was viewed by the authorities at the time as social hostility.

The level of corporal punishment was much more severe at the special center. Lee was discharged from the Samcheong center 10 months later because of a wound in his left leg caused by the beatings he suffered.

In the name of uprooting discontent and disorder to maintain stability, the Chun regime, which took power through a military coup in 1979, arrested 60,755 people without warrants from August 1980 to January 1981.

Of that number, 39,742 were sent to the Samcheong Rehabilitation Center for “atonement education,” where state-orchestrated violence and human rights violations were rampant.

The center has been recognized as a hallmark of the military Chun government for its abusive power and authoritarian rule against the South Korean people. It is understood that about one-third of the “inmates” were innocent, as 35.9 percent of the total figure did not have any prior criminal records.

In the process of arresting the inmates, the authoritarian state applied subjective criteria to determine if one should be sent to the center to be rehabilitated as “socially acceptable.”

Those who were deemed to have potential to cause social disturbances or those who had been convicted before were arrested without due process. During the so-called atonement education period, inmates were subject to corporal punishment by center instructors and were mobilized for construction work without payment.


BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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