Self-immolating protester dies from burn shock

Posted on : 2014-01-02 16:21 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Middle-aged man lit himself ablaze in Seoul calling for Pres. Park to resign
 Jan. 1. (by Kim Bong-gyu
Jan. 1. (by Kim Bong-gyu

By Lee Jae-uk, staff reporter

The man who set himself on fire as he called for the resignation of President Park Geun-hye and a special prosecutor to investigate the National Intelligence Service scandal has died.

According to the Namdaemun Police Department in Seoul on Jan. 1, the man (surnamed Lee, 40) was taken to a hospital after he ignited his body on the afternoon of Dec. 31 on an elevated road next to Seoul Station. Lee died of burns covering his whole body (burn shock) at 7:55 in the morning on Jan. 1 at Hangang Sacred Heart Hospital in Seoul, police said.

Lee immolated himself while holding a demonstration atop an elevated road. He had hung two banners calling for Park’s resignation and the appointment of a special prosecutor and had tied his hands behind his back with a metal chain. Lee had studied for the civil service exam and was working at a convenience store until recently, reports say.

At the place where the self-immolation occurred, Lee’s diary was discovered, containing his final words. Before setting his body ablaze, Lee wrote a message at the back of the diary titled “How are you nowadays?” It also included, “Although Park’s government has intervened in the general election through NIS, the truth was hidden while only regarded as personal deviation. This is clear infringement upon democracy. I will bear all the fears on behalf of the public. Everyone, please stand up for it.”

 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

The police initially claimed that Lee’s self-immolation was motivated by personal debt, but this has been shown to be untrue. Lee’s older brother, who he lived with in Gwangju, said during his interview with police, “My brother’s credit card debts from about 7 or 8 years ago were incurred to finance my businesses. I have managed to gradually repay off the debts. It doesn’t make sense at all that my brother would kill himself due to debt”.

Park Ju-min, secretary general of MINBYUN-Lawyers for Democratic Society, who joined the police interview, said, “There was no single word about debt in his last message. Instead it was mainly full of criticisms over wrong doings by the Park administration.”

Considering that he recorded a final message and also called 112, the police hotline, before the act, it appears that Lee’s self-immolation was planned. It was confirmed that Lee had made various preparations. A week prior, he changed the name of the beneficiary of his insurance to a younger sibling and purchased cans of gasoline.

Surviving family members said that they had had no idea of Lee‘s plans. Interviewed by a Hankyoreh reporter, Lee’s older brother said, “Until two days ago [Dec. 30], my brother would come home to eat. I didn‘t notice any signs that he was about to die. He smiled a lot and had a cheerful personality.” Sources say that Lee did not belong to a political party or to a civic organization.

Lee’s memorial service took place at Hangang Sacred Heart Hospital on the afternoon of Jan. 1. The bereaved have decided to join with civic groups to make Lee’s funeral open to the public. A coalition of 286 civil groups including People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy plans to hold funeral ceremony at Seoul Station Square at 9:30 am on Jan.4.

Lee‘s last message in his diary
Lee‘s last message in his diary

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