Five ‘Burim’ defendants acquitted 33 years later
Yesterday’s ruling by the Busan District Court bears symbolic meaning in that the court accepted the victims’ claims that their confessions were forced after days of torture under the military government of Chun Doo Hwan, effectively reversing the sentences given to the activists more than 30 years ago.
Presiding Judge Han Young-pyo ruled that the confessions given by the defendants at the time bore no authenticity because they had been draw up after their illegal detention and torture.
A number of books confiscated by the authorities that were later presented as evidence for antistate activities also cannot be counted as valid, the judge added.
“The violation of the National Security Law only applies to an action that poses clear and grave harm to the foundation of the state and the order of democracy. And it has been deemed that the defendants’ activities in the democracy movement or as members of a book club did not pose such harm,” the judge said.
In 1981, the police arrested 22 university students, teachers and workers who were part of a book club in Busan. The authorities detained them for up to 63 days without due process, during which the police tortured them and obtained false confessions stating that they were pro-North Korean figures seeking to aid the enemy state.
Of the 22 arrested, 19 were convicted of breaking the National Security Law and sentenced to one- to seven-year prison terms. The Supreme Court upheld the convictions in 1983.
The yesterday’s retrial came 31 years after the Supreme Court’s ruling. A retrial in the case was held after the five defendants requested that the court review the case and hand down a new judgment accordingly.
With yesterday’s acquittal, it is expected that the 14 other victims will request a retrial.
“I want to express my gratitude to the court for its logical judgment today, as well as to the public and media, who have given a great amount of attention to the case [recently],” Koh Ho-seok, one of the five men acquitted, said before a throng of reporters yesterday after the ruling.
Koh also thanked late President Roh Moo-hyun, who defended the accused students in the Burim case as their attorney. “Today’s acquittal by the court is the result of lawyer Roh Moo-hyun’s devoted efforts to defend us 33 years ago.”
After the Burim case, Roh worked as a human rights lawyer, defending democracy activists, before entering politics in 1988. He was elected as a member of the National Assembly representing Dong District in Busan.
Roh served as the president of Korea from 2003 to 2008.
BY KANG JIN-KYU [firstname.lastname@example.org]