State asks for Chun to be jailed for 18 months

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State asks for Chun to be jailed for 18 months

Chun Doo Hwan, Korea's authoritarian leader of the 1980s, photographed in March 2019. Prosecutors recommended a one-and-half-year jail sentence for the ex-president. [YONHAP]

Chun Doo Hwan, Korea's authoritarian leader of the 1980s, photographed in March 2019. Prosecutors recommended a one-and-half-year jail sentence for the ex-president. [YONHAP]

 
Prosecutors on Monday recommended a jail sentence of 18 months for Korea’s former strongman Chun Doo Hwan, two years after he was indicted for defaming a priest who penned a harrowing account of the bloody military crackdown on the 1980 Gwangju Uprising.  
 
Monday was one of the final hearings in the high-profile trial involving the ex-president — who was jailed and pardoned in the 1990s on charges of conspiracy and insurrection — in what could be the last opportunity for survivors of the brutal suppression to get justice.  
 
The unapologetic Chun, now 89, published a controversial three-volume memoir in 2017 that labeled the late activist Catholic priest Cho Chul-hyun a “shameless liar” and “Satan wearing a mask” for claiming soldiers commanded by Chun opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators from a helicopter. 
 
Cho, who died of cancer in 2016, was an eyewitness and participant in the uprising from May 18 to 27, 1980. He recollected his memories of the crackdown in a parliamentary hearing in 1989, testifying that machine gunfire from a helicopter was one of the various ways in which soldiers sent by Chun attempted to suppress the movement.  
 
The exact number of casualties of that nine-day movement remains disputed, though it is believed to number in the hundreds.  
 
The massacre was forever seared into public memory in Korea, and played an instrumental role in galvanizing underground movements that eventually forced the junta to concede to democratic presidential elections in 1987.  
 
For decades, however, Chun has challenged the narrative of that movement, denying he ordered the crackdown and downplaying its brutality.  
 
His memoir, a wholesale apology for his authoritarian presidency, showed his beliefs had not changed in spite of ample evidence to the contrary.  
 
Within days of its publication, the family of the late priest filed a criminal complaint accusing Chun of defaming the dead, which is a crime in Korea. Chun was indicted by Gwangju prosecutors in 2018.  
 
In apparent defiance, Chun refused to attend most hearings of his trial, citing poor health, including a claim that he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. His most recent show in court was in April, when a judge required him to undergo an arraignment.  
 
Given the slow pace of the trial, it is unclear when the former president’s sentencing will take place, with legal analysts divided as to whether it will be possible within this year.  
 
Whatever the case, Chun will be forced to attend that final hearing, which will decide whether to put him back in jail more than two decades after his pardon.  
 
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK   [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr] 

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