December 01, 2020 13:31
Former president Chun Doo-hwan was found guilty on Monday of defaming the late activist priest Cho Chul-hyun, who gave an eyewitness account of the military massacre of democracy demonstrators in 1980.
The Gwangju District Court on Monday only gave Chun (89) a two-year suspended sentence because he is old and ill.
But Judge Kim Jung-hoo accepted military helicopters did fire at protesters in Gwangju on May 21, 1980. "The defendant knew his claims were false, yet wrote his memoir anyway," he said.
The putschist president denounced Cho as "Satan under the mask" in the 2017 memoir for revealing that he saw military helicopters fire on protesters.
The dispute over the incident has raged for decades. Witnesses first spoke in a National Assembly hearing in 1988 of helicopters firing on protesters, but their accounts were dismissed by the military dictatorship of Chun's successor Roh Tae-woo. In 1995, when the first democratically elected president, Kim Young-sam, was in office, prosecutors announced that they "could not confirm loss of life" or find shrapnel or other clear signs of bullets being fired.
Those findings resulted in relatively lenient sentences for Chun and Roh when their legal reckoning came.
And yet, during the Roh Moo-hyun administration in 2007, a fact-finding team at the Defense Ministry also said there were no records of helicopters being used to crack down on protesters in Gwangju.
The smoking gun was finally found in August 2016, when multiple bullet holes were discovered during remodeling of a building near the former South Jeolla Province government office. Gwangju city officials turned to the National Forensic Service to analyze them, and at least 150 were identified on the 10th floor of the building, which was the tallest structure in the city at the time.
The NFS said the bullet traces suggest that a helicopter fired guns while hovering outside. Kim Dong-hwan at the NPS said, "You can't find such traces on such a high floor unless the rounds were fired from a higher altitude."
The Moon Jae-in administration launched yet another fact-finding committee in 2018, which accepted the NFS' findings and acknowledged that Army helicopters were used to attack protesters. The committee concluded that the military used MD500 and UH-1H helicopters to fire at protesters, though no flight logs were found, and five chopper pilots who flew over the protests at the time claimed they did not fire at protesters although their helicopters were armed.
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