Compensation ordered for victims in fabricated spy case

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Compensation ordered for victims in fabricated spy case

A local court ruled on Monday that the government pay compensation to the surviving families of four men wrongfully convicted of espionage during the Park Chung Hee administration.

The Seoul Central District Court made the decision on Monday regarding a civil suit filed by 22 surviving relatives of Kwon Jae-hyeok, Lee Il-jae, Lee Hyeong-rak and Kim Bong-gyu.

The men were victims of a fabricated espionage case orchestrated by the state intelligence agency in 1968. The late authoritarian leader was the father of current President Park Geun-hye.

The court ruled that the state must pay a total of 7 billion won ($5.9 million) in compensation to the families of the four victims. Four of Kwon’s relatives, including his widow, were granted 3.5 billion won. He was executed shortly after he was convicted.

On July 30, 1968, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), the nation’s main spy agency and the predecessor of the current National Intelligence Service, arrested 13 people, including Kwon, on charges that they organized an underground organization in support of North Korea.

The KCIA claimed that the suspects had created an antistate, pro-Pyongyang group called the South Korea Liberation Strategy Party. Among them, Kwon was a prominent scholar who studied economics in the United States at the University of Oregon and had returned to Korea to teach at the Korea Military Academy.

While the accused insisted on their innocence throughout trial proceedings, they were ultimately convicted of the charges. The Supreme Court convicted Kwon in September 1969, sentencing him to death. He was executed two months later in November 1969.

Lee Il-jae was sentenced to serve a lifetime in prison, while Kim and Lee Hyeong-rak received seven-year and 10-year prison terms, respectively.

Kim and Lee Hyeong-rak both completed their prison time, and Lee Il-jae was pardoned in 1988. It was only in April 2009, after the men had passed away, that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating the case announced the intelligence agency had fabricated the charges.

The committee said that the KCIA had arrested the suspects without warrants and detained them illegally for up to 53 days. During interrogation, they were tortured and beaten to obtain false testimonies. Even after they were transferred to the prosecution, KCIA agents joined the prosecutors in their questioning, the committee said.

The victims’ surviving relatives sought a retrial, which led the four men to be posthumously acquitted in a Supreme Court ruling in May 2015.

They subsequently filed suit for compensation.

“A state agency is responsible for protecting the people’s basic rights and the dignity and value of each individual. However, it systematically abused its power in order to deprive citizens from their lives and freedom,” the court stated in Monday’s ruling.

“[The defendants’] families have lived in pain for over 45 years, labeled as the relatives of traitors, until their wrongful convictions were revealed. The state is therefore responsible for restitution for the victims.”

BY SER MYO-JA, LEE YU-JEONG [ser.myoja@Joongang.co.kr]

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