Executions Still Smart 30 Years After

      April 08, 2005 20:19

      Civic groups said prayers and held a memorial service Friday to mark the 30th anniversary of an incident in Korea's postwar history that refuses to go away. On April 9, 1975, eight people -- Do Ye-jong, Seo Do-won, Ha Jae-wan, Lee Su-byeong, Kim Yong-won, Song Sang-jin, Woo Hong-seon and Yeo Jeong-nam -- were executed just one day after being sentenced to death on trumped-up charges in a court of law.

      The "dark day in judicial history", as an association of legal scholar in Geneva has called it, stands as a symbol of the abuse of state authority in the 1970s and 1980s and is known as the "People's Revolutionary Party Reconstruction Committee Incident."

      And it is once again making headlines as it tops the list of incidents picked for investigation by a government committee probing the past of the nation's intelligence services. Others are the destruction of KAL 858 and the kidnapping of Kim Dae-jung, then a dissident.

      Defendants from the People's Revolutionary Party incident receive judgment during their appeals case

      Efforts to uncover the truth behind the incident started when the Catholic Human Rights Committee in Korea set up a committee for the purpose and to "restore the honor of the victims." Through testimony of those involved, the truth slowly came to light, and an official investigation by the Presidential Truth Commission found that the charges had indeed been fabricated.

      It has been 30 years since the victims were executed, but their families have yet to receive a single penny in compensation, and they have yet to be officially exonerated.

      The tragedy had two parts. The first, on August 14, 1964, took place at a time of strong protests against talks with Japan and Korea's "humiliating" diplomacy vis-à-vis the former colonial power. Then-KCIA director Kim Hyung-wook announced the arrest of 41 people for being part of a large underground organization -- the People's Revolutionary Party -- that was accused of trying to stir revolution on orders from North Korea. On appeal, the accused, including Do Ye-jong, were found guilty, and on November 21 of the same year, the Supreme Court upheld their sentences.

      The second act in the drama is known as the Reconstruction Committee Incident. Protests were growing against a "Yushin Constitution" designed give then- president Park Chung-hee indefinite control of power. Following protests by Seoul National University students in 1973, leaflets were distributed under the name of the "National Democratic Young Student League."

      Under Presidential Emergency Decree No. 4 promulgated in April the following year, all activity related to the National Democratic Young Student League was banned and the members of the league arrested. On April 8, 1975, Do Ye-jong and the seven others were sentenced to death on charges of reconstructing the Peoples's Revolutionary Party and instigating the National Democratic Young Student League, and less than 20 hours later on April 9, they were executed.

      Civic groups said prayers at the former Seodaemun Prison in Independence Park and a memorial service was held Friday at Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul.

      A Catholic Human Rights Committee in Korea official said the service was to "mark the 30th anniversary of the incident and confirm the importance and our intention of putting the past to rest." He stressed that to get to the bottom of all suspicious deaths and fabricated incidents from the past, including the People's Revolutionary Party incident, the country needed a proper law designed to overcome the past.

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