Families of eight wrongfully executed political prisoners awarded compensation

Posted on : 2007-08-22 12:43 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Court ruling grants 63.7 billion won to families, the largest amount ever paid in case involving political dissidents

A court ruled that the government pay compensation in the amount of 63.7 billion won (US$67.4 million) to 46 members of the families of eight men who were once accused of being members of the Inhyeok-dang (People’s Revolutionary Party, or the PRP). The men, who were found innocent at a retrial held in January, were executed in 1975 for what the government cited as anti-governmental activities and cooperation with North Korea.

The eight men were arrested on charges of treason and violating the National Security Law in 1974, when anti-government student protests spread across the nation. Student activists and opposition leaders demanded an end to the military dictatorship and the repeal of the Yushin Constitution, in force from 1972-1979, which had been revised to allow then-President Park Chung-hee, the father of current opposition leader Park Geun-hye, to stay in power indefinitely.

Park Chung-hee ordered cruel, nationwide crackdowns on political dissidents and student activists in order to further solidify his power. Those who were alleged to have been part of the PRP had grown up together as friends and acquaintances in the region near Daegu, and were arrested in the round-up on false charges of having formed the PRP in order to overthrow the government.

The People’s Revolutionary Party was later found to have been a fabrication of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, which predates today’s National Intelligence Service, and the fear with which it became associated became a strong tool for Park’s ruthless, authoritarian rule. Those accused of being part of the PRP were not only tortured into confessing that they had formed the group, the KCIA also alleged that group members had confessed that their eventual goal was to build a socialist government in close cooperation with North Korea, in clear violation of the National Security Law, which prohibits both communism and the recognition of the North as a political entity.

Eight of the accused were sentenced to death and dozens of the rest were sentenced to serve between 15 years to life imprisonment. The eight men who were handed death sentences were hastily executed less than 24 hours after the final rulings by the Supreme Court were issued. Human rights organizations, both in South Korea and abroad, have criticized the execution as barbarous, and have long called for reinvestigation of the case.

The eight men: Woo Hong-seon, Song Sang-jin, Seo Do-won, Ha Jae-wan, Lee Su-byeong, Kim Yong-won, Doh Ye-jong and Yeo Jeong-nam were acquitted of all charges in a ruling handed down in January of this year.

Following the court’s ruling, the families of the men filed a lawsuit against the government, demanding compensation of 34 billion won for the wrongful deaths of their loved ones.

In response, the Seoul Central District Court ruled on August 21 that the government must pay 1 billion won to each of the victims, 600 million won to each of their spouses and parents, 350-400 million won to each of their children and 150 million won to each of their brothers and sisters. It is a record amount paid by the state for a case involving political dissent, said the court.

According to the ruling, each of the victims’ families will receive 2.7-3.3 billion won, or 24.5 billion won altogether. The total compensation will amount to more than 63.7 billion won, with the addition of five-percent annual interest from the day of the victims’ execution until now.

In its ruling, the court stated: “Although the state is obliged to protect the basic rights of the people and guarantee the dignity and value of each one of them, it took the precious lives of these eight men by using its power to label them as an impure force in society and drive them out. Their family members have suffered from society’s cold treatment, social disadvantages and consequential financial difficulties for the past three decades.”

In response to the government’s maintenance that the statue of limitations for seeking compensation is over, the court said, “Prior to the court’s admission that the past ruling was wrong, it would have been difficult for the families to sue the government for compensation. We cannot allow the government to be exempt from its responsibility by claiming that the statue of limitations has passed.”

Shortly after the court’s ruling was announced, the families said in a press conference, “We hope that the government won’t appeal the decision,” adding that the Catholic Human Rights Committee and the families have both decided to spend the compensation funds to build a foundation honoring the deceased.

As to whether or not the government would appeal the decision, Hong Man-pyo, an official of the Justice Ministry, said,“The Seoul High Court and the National Intelligence Service will discuss the matter and decide what to do next, after getting approval from the minister.”

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