Still no investigation into water cannon blast that killed farmer Baek Nam-ki

Posted on : 2016-09-27 16:38 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Police so far seeking to evade responsibility for farmer’s death, implying he died of preexisting condition
People wait to pay their respects to deceased farmer Baek Nam-ki
People wait to pay their respects to deceased farmer Baek Nam-ki

The key issue in the recent death of farmer Baek Nam-ki - an investigation into who shot the water cannon whose jet struck him - has ended up buried in the controversy over whether an autopsy should be performed.

Many are now calling for a prompt investigation by prosecutors into the abuse of public authority that led to the 69-year-old Baek’s death.

In Nov. 2015, Baek’s family lodged a complaint with prosecutors accusing seven police officers of attempted murder, including former National Police Agency (NPA) commissioner Kang Sin-myeong. Little progress has been made in the investigation in the more than ten months since. Baek’s oldest daughter Doraji and Boseong County Korean Peasants’ League chairperson Kwon Yong-shik were each questioned once as accusers the following December. It was not until the following June that four police officers were questioned as defendants, including then-Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency (SMPA) 4th Police Corps head Shin Yun-gyun. Prosecutors have yet to question either of the key defendants: Kang and then-SMPA chief Goo Eun-su.

“The parties involved have been called in, and there has been considerable questioning,” said a source with the prosecutors. “They’re still under investigation. Nothing has been decided yet on whether to summon Kang.”

During a supreme council meeting at the National Assembly on Sep. 26, Minjoo Party floor leader Woo Sang-ho said, “Nobody at all has apologized for Baek’s death. The prosecutors have not even investigated how his death came about. Now is the time for prosecutors to begin a proper investigation.”

People’s Party emergency committee chairperson and floor leader Park Jie-won said, “What the prosecutors need to be doing right now is not performing an autopsy, but investigating the incident in a thorough and prompt way and holding the state and the parties involved responsible.”

Speaking as head of the organization in a position to assume legal and moral responsibility, NPA commissioner Lee Chul-sung left Baek’s family members enraged with comments suggesting the water cannon may not have been the cause of his death. During a talk with reporters on Sep. 26, Lee said, “The cause of Baek Nam-ki’s death is unclear, and an autopsy needs to be performed.”

“Mr. Baek is supposed to have had hemorrhaging under his scalp [subarachnoid hemorrhaging] when he was first admitted to the hospital, but his general practitioner said yesterday that he died because of heart failure caused by renal insufficiency [a kidney ailment],” Lee added. “Since the cause of death is unclear, we can eliminate possible misunderstandings by performing an autopsy and getting a clear forensic opinion.”

In response, Jeon Jin-han, a specialist and member of the group Association of Physicians for Humanism, said Baek “was admitted with external hemorrhaging due to an external shock, but came to suffer various secondary conditions such as acute renal insufficiency over the course of his long hospital stay.”

“It is not medically accurate to view him as having died from renal insufficiency,” Jeon argued.

By Kim Ji-hoon, Seo Young-ji and Um Ji-won, staff reporters

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