Disabled activists denied dignity in jail

Posted on : 2012-08-10 15:40 KST Modified on : 2012-08-10 15:40 KST
After being arrested for not paying fines, disabled people claim they weren’t fed or provided medicine
 August 7.
August 7.

By Lee You-jin, staff reporter

On the other side of the glass of the meeting room of Seoul Correctional Service Center (Seoul Jail) sat Lee Gyu-sik, 43, the director of the Yieum Center for Disabled People’s Independent Living. Lee wore his prison blues as he sat in his wheelchair on the morning August 9.

Lee is one of eight severely disabled activists went to Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office on August 7. They told prosecutors, “if a movement for human rights for the disabled is a crime, please arrest us instead of fining us.”

Since 2006 the activists had amassed fines that ranged from 300,000 to 1.2 million won (US$266 to $1060) for violating demonstration and traffic laws during protests. Those protests sought the abolishment of the grading system for disabled people and the resignation of National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) commissioner Hyun Byung-chul. Hyun is a controversial figure due to his poor treatment of disabled people. The grading system categorizes disabled people according to the severity of their condition and provides benefits based on the ranking.

Most of the activists live on government assistance and could therefore not afford the fines they were assessed. Their inability to pay made them wanted criminals. One of the detained, Park Jung-hyeok, 42, said, “Since I can’t earn money and have no way of paying my fine, I want to go to jail and do labor there. At least in jail I can earn something.”

The process of going to jail voluntarily was not peaceful. On Tuesday afternoon, they got into a scuffle with police, who would not let the disabled people’s volunteer assistants accompany them to jail. After a struggle, they had barely made it to the prosecutors’ office when they had to wage a “freedom of movement struggle” as they were brought to jail.

The disabled people weren’t provided with the necessary equipment to move. Instead, police officers said they would carry them on their backs. Lawyers for a Democratic Society secretary general Park Ju-min, who accompanied the activists to the prosecutors’ office, said, “The police said they would carry the eight, including two women, to the buses, and move their wheelchairs by truck. They had no choice but to resist.”

This is the usual method police use when arresting the disabled. It’s very dangerous because the disabled are unable to support their spines and can easily fall. It was night before they were transported to Seoul Jail aboard a bus specially made for transporting people with disabilities.

One of the disabled activists had to be brought to an emergency room due to exhaustion after protesting in the sweltering 35-degree weather. A female activist was brought to the hospital after suffering a dislocated shoulder as she was being moved upon arrival at Seoul Jail.

The remaining six activists were left to struggle to fulfill the basics of everyday life in jail. The situation in jail was more complicated than they had expected: they were divided between facilities for the disabled and for the non-disabled and didn’t have help from assistants. They needed help from their fellow prisoners, but it didn‘t work out as they’d hoped.

Lee, who was detained with elderly prisoners, said, “When the other prisoners, who were instructed to help us with going to the bathroom, complained, the prison guard who gave us our meals was instructed to give us water only so we’d only need to urinate (and not defecate).”

Some of the activists had to lay around all day because they could not use their electric wheelchairs. One activist, who needed to take gastrointestinal agents every day was denied the medication until visiting friends complained.

Kim Tae-hun, an activist with the Council Center for Independent Lives of Persons with Disabilities, said, “Imprisoned disabled people suffer great discomfort as they cannot satisfy even basic needs like going to the bathroom, as the bathrooms lack handrails or cannot accommodate wheelchairs.”

An official from Seoul Jail said, “The meals are distributed evenly to all prisoners by volunteers. It’s impossible that the disabled prisoners were not fed.”

Ultimately, religious groups paid the activists’ fines and they were released. So far, about 20 disabled activists have been fined roughly 27 million won, and those are just the ones activist groups know about. That total reflects court rulings that reduced the original fines.

Disabled groups including Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination will hold a beer party at Korea University’s student cafeteria from 3pm to 9pm Saturday in order to raise money for the fines.


Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Most viewed articles