Former inmates unjustly incarcerated during Jeju Massacre to sue S. Korean government

Posted on : 2019-02-24 08:33 KST Modified on : 2019-02-24 08:33 KST
Attorneys representing victims demand compensation for illegal detention and psychological trauma
After being dismissed of trumped up charges during the Jeju Massacre
After being dismissed of trumped up charges during the Jeju Massacre

After a South Korean court exonerated Jeju residents who had been incarcerated without trial 70 years ago during the events of the Jeju Massacre (Jeju Uprising) by dismissing the charges against them, those former inmates are taking steps to sue the South Korean government for compensation for their illegal detention.

On Feb. 22, the Jeju Islander Coalition for Investigating the Apr. 3 Jeju Uprising and for Restoring Reputations and Im Jae-seong and Kim Sae-eun, attorneys from the Haemaru law firm who are representing the former inmates, visited the Jeju District Court to file documents requesting criminal compensation for the illegal detention of people incarcerated after the Jeju Uprising who remain alive today. These groups also submitted a request to the Jeju office of the prosecutors to post the Jeju District Court’s ruling exonerating the former inmates on the website of the Ministry of Justice.

“While the Jeju District Court was deciding to dismiss the charges, no evidence whatsoever was submitted that corroborated the charges against the former inmates. Even if there was no reason for the charges to be dismissed, it’s obvious that the defendants would have been acquitted since there was no evidence that they’d committed any crimes,” said Im Jae-seong in the request submitted to the prosecutors.

According to Article 26 of the Act on Criminal Compensation and Restoration of Impaired Reputation, defendants whose charges have been dismissed can request the government for compensation for a previous detention if there were grounds for their acquittal in a trial, even presuming that their charges hadn’t been dismissed.

No records government remain regarding conviction of former inmates

None of the records remain from the convictions of the former inmates, including their written indictments or verdicts. During the former inmates’ retrial last year, the prosecutors admitted that they’d checked with 10 organizations that could plausibly have stored records demonstrating the charges against the defendants, but had failed to find records bearing any meaningful reference to the charges. The only available evidence was the testimony of the former inmates themselves, who said they’d been unjustly arrested despite having committed no crimes; that they’d been beaten, tortured and otherwise treated with brutality; and that they’d been imprisoned despite being innocent.

But since there are also hardly any records that the former inmates’ sentences were actually carried out, the coalition and the inmates’ lawyers are planning to demonstrate that their sentences were executed by collating circumstantial evidence that can confirm the length of their illegal detentions. The amount of the compensation to be demanded from the government is based on a number of factors, including “their illegal detention, their cruel treatment and the severe psychological distress they suffered because of the stigma of being ‘rebels and commies’ that lasted for nearly 70 years because of the court’s ruling.”

Nothing resembling due process was followed

On Jan. 17, the Jeju District Court’s 2nd Criminal Division (under Hon. Jegal Chang) dismissed the charges in the retrial of 18 individuals who had been tried by a military tribunal for rebellion and other crimes during the Jeju Uprising (1948–1949) and then given prison sentences ranging from one to 20 years. The ruling came 1 year and 9 months after the surviving inmates petitioned the court for a retrial on Apr. 2017. The court ruled that the very act of filing charges against the former inmates had been invalid since they’d been put on trial through an illegal process in which their alleged crimes were never even specifically identified.

A dismissal of charges occurs when a court ends a legal action before the trial gets underway because of a problem with the conditions required for the action.

The Jeju District Court drew attention to the fact that the charges against the former inmates couldn’t be specified and that the procedures for referring cases to the military tribunal had not been followed. “Related documents, including the list of inmates and military orders for executing the sentences, only list the names of the crimes and the legal statutes being applied, but there are no documents containing the charges for which the former inmates were tried before the military tribunal or the tribunal’s decisions in their trials. The defendants have consistently testified that they had no idea what they were being charged with,” the court said.

The court also ruled that, since the military tribunal found 2,530 individuals guilty in a short period of time, there couldn’t have been a proper investigation or trial. “It seems unlikely that any decent preliminary investigation could have been carried out or that copies of the written indictment could’ve been delivered when such a large number of individuals were being collectively referred to a military tribunal in a short timeframe,” the court said. Since the prosecutors declined to appeal the ruling, the court’s dismissal of the charges will stand.

By Ko Han-sol, staff reporter

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