Mother of Sewol victim travels 3,100km in 21 days to raise awareness about investigation into ferry tragedy

Posted on : 2020-11-02 18:04 KST Modified on : 2020-11-02 18:04 KST
The April 16 Truth Bus aims to garner 100,000 signatures for Blue House petition
Yoon Gang-hee, the mother of a victim of the Sewol ferry tragedy, during her interview with the Hankyoreh. (Kim Hye-yun, staff photographer)
Yoon Gang-hee, the mother of a victim of the Sewol ferry tragedy, during her interview with the Hankyoreh. (Kim Hye-yun, staff photographer)

Yoon Gang-hee, 43, the mother of Sewol ferry victim Kim Si-yeon (then 18), boarded a coach parked next to the Blue House’s Sarangchae, or public information hall, on Oct. 6. The bus was adorned with large yellow ribbons and inscribed with the words “April 16 Truth Bus.” The purpose of the bus was to inform people of the National Assembly citizens’ petition submitted by civic groups, including 4/16 Sewol Families for Truth and A Safer Society (SFTSS). The petition calls on the government to enact the Special Act on Investigating the Truth of Social Disasters and Building a Safe Society (SDC Act) and release presidential records related to the tragedy.

The investigation by the Social Disasters Commission (SDC) will come to an end on Dec. 11, but the reasons behind the sinking and the lackluster rescue effort have still not been brought to light. The SDC does not have the investigative rights to compel [testimony] or the ability to view presidential records that could confirm negligence in the rescue effort. When a National Assembly citizens’ petition obtains 100,000 signatures within a month, it must be subject to deliberation by the competent standing committee of the National Assembly.

The April 16 Truth Bus. (provided by 4/16 Sewol Families for Truth and A Safer Society)
The April 16 Truth Bus. (provided by 4/16 Sewol Families for Truth and A Safer Society)

Beginning with the Blue House, the April 16 Truth Bus that Yoon boarded travelled to 27 cities throughout Korea in 21 days, stopping in Gwangju, Busan, Wonju and other locations. This was a journey of more than 3,100 kilometers. In an interview with the Hankyoreh on Oct. 29, Yoon noted that most of the people she met around the country mistakenly believed that the investigation into the truth surrounding the Sewol ferry sinking was “making good progress.”

One citizen she met in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, was glad to see the Truth Bus with Yoon on board, but was surprised to see the bereaved families of Sewol victims making such a trip. Upon hearing Yoon explain the lack of progress in the investigation, the person reportedly broke out in tears and said, “I thought the investigation was going well.” Those on the bus conducted publicity work and meetings from 6 am to 9 pm each day before climbing back on the bus late at night to travel to the next city. Yoon stated she would have been unable to cope with the brutal schedule were it not for the solidarity shown by other bereaved families.

In Daejeon, they received words of condolence and encouragement from the mother of Kim Dong-jun, a man who passed away after being the victim of workplace bullying while conducting rescue work. In Jeju, the father of Lee Min-ho, a victim of an industrial accident, joined the group in holding up placards. The group met with families of people killed in the May 18 Democratization Movement in Gwangju, and held a meeting in Jeju with relatives of victims in the Apr. 3 Jeju Uprising. “Bereaved families had looked up the Truth Bus’ schedule and came out to greet us,” Yoon said. “That gave us a lot of strength.”

Citizens that SFTSS met in the streets filled the canvas the group had brought with messages such as “Is it too much to ask for a safe society?” and “We are sorry that the lack of progress in investigating the truth has brought pain to bereaved families.” Yoon’s earnest wishes and the power of solidarity eventually bore fruit. On the evening of Oct. 31, the petition submitted by SFTSS reached 100,000 signatures. This was the first step towards unveiling the truth. Yoon was reportedly overjoyed to hear the news. “I know that bringing the truth to light and having those responsible punished won’t bring our children back, but uncovering the truth is a necessary step towards preventing similar tragedies from happening again and building a safe country,” Yoon told the Hankyoreh. “I once again felt that a lot of people want the truth about the Sewol tragedy to come out, and I would like to thank everyone for rallying together.”

By Kang Jae-gu, staff reporter

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