Ex-Korean dictator Chun Doo Hwan on trial for defaming uprising victims

World | 11 Mar 2019 1:12 pm

Former South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan arrived in the regional city of Gwangju today to attend a libel trial over his controversial memoirs, in which he allegedly defamed victims of his brutal crackdown on a 1980 pro-democracy uprising.

The 88-year-old, who led an authoritarian government from 1980-1988, is due to appear at the 2:30 p.m. hearing at the Gwangju District Court, about 330 kilometers southwest of Seoul.

It marks another court appearance by the disgraced ex-leader in more than two decades after he stood a criminal trial on treason and other charges in 1997, Yonhap reports.

Chun was indicted in May last year on charges that he defamed victims of his government's bloody crackdown on the Gwangju pro-democracy revolt, particularly Cho Chul Hyu, a late activist priest who said he witnessed the military firing at citizens from helicopters during the bloody suppression of the protests against Chun's rule.

Denying Cho's claim, he called Cho in the book, "Satan wearing a mask" and claimed what he said was a flat-out lie.

When asked by a reporter if he still denies he ordered the firing, Chun said, "What do you think you're doing?"

Clad in a dark suit and a yellow tie, Chun left home in western Seoul at about 8:30 a.m., along with his wife, former first lady Lee Soon Ja, who accompanied him to Gwangju.

On May 18, 1980, the brutal crackdown on student-led demonstrations against Chun's junta sparked a massive civilian protest in Gwangju. When the troops fired into crowds, it is said protesters began to arm themselves. According to an official tally, the bloodshed led to the deaths of around 200 people and 1,000 injured.

The Gwangju District Court has issued a subpoena against Chun after he repeatedly refused to come to the hearing, citing health conditions that include a claim he suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

His lawyer has said the former president has no intention of evading the court proceedings.

Prosecutors began an investigation after a relative of Cho filed a complaint. If convicted, Chun could face up to two years in prison or up to 5 million won (US$4,400) in fines.

How to define the Gwangju uprising remains a deeply divided issue in South Korea and is often a subject of ideological confrontation between conservatives and liberals.

Last month, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party expelled one of its lawmakers for making disparaging remarks about the Gwangju incident as being a riot that had involved North Korean troops.

A series of truth-finding probes have been conducted regarding the Gwangju uprising, with the latest announced in October last year that found there were at least 17 suspected cases of sexual violence committed by soldiers on dozens of women.

Chun has never admitted responsibility or apologized for the revolt.

The former army general seized power in a 1979 coup and ruled the country until early 1988. He was sentenced to death in 1996 for treason and bribery. His sentence was reduced to life imprisonment by the highest court, and he was released in December 1997 on a presidential pardon.

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