Gov't Inspects Execution Facilities Amid Death Penalty Debate

  • By Song Won-hyung

    August 30, 2023 14:08

    Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon recently told officials to inspect execution facilities in four correctional facilities across the country, it was revealed Tuesday.
    Korea has effectively abolished the death penalty by not carrying out any executions since 1997. As a result, the execution facilities have fallen into disrepair.
    Korea has four jails with execution facilities in Seoul, Busan, Daegu, and Daejeon. Last week, Han told them to "properly maintain the facilities since the death penalty still exists."
    The last execution took place in December 1997, during the Kim Young-sam administration, involving 23 death row inmates.
    But recent horrific crimes such as knife attacks at Sillim and Seohyeon subway stations and a sexual assault of a woman on a hiking trail in a park in Sillim-dong has led to fresh clamor to revive executions, which the government seems keen to appease with the gesture.
    A ministry official explained that Han's intention is to ensure that the execution facilities are properly maintained as long as the death penalty is still in place.
    There are currently 59 inmates on nominal death row, including notorious serial killers Yoo Young-chul, Kang Ho-sun and Jeong Du-yeong.
    Public opinion leans toward maintaining the death penalty, with 77.3 percent of 1,007 respondents in a 2021 Gallup Korea poll in favor. Among those in favor, 95.5 percent said it should be carried out for particularly heinous crimes.
    The Constitutional Court issued two judgments upholding the death penalty in 1996 and 2010, and a third petition to abolish it is being deliberated. One legal expert said given recent changes in the composition of judges on the Constitutional Court and public opinion, it is likely to fail again.
    But apart from the danger of miscarriages of justice, Korea is in an awkward position in the international community, where the death penalty has overwhelmingly been abolished, while several human-rights treaties that Korea is a signatory to impel members to abolish it.
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