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Chun Doo-Hwan gets 8 months for defamation

November 30, 2020

Chun Doo-hwan called a democracy activist a "liar" and "Satan" in his memoir. The former dictator was previously sentenced to death, but almost immediately pardoned, after Seoul's military government fell.

Former South Korean President Chun Doo-Hwan
Image: YNA/dpa/picture alliance

Former South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan was sentenced to eight months in prison and a two-year suspended sentence on Monday for defaming democracy activist and Catholic priest Cho Chul-hyun.

The 89-year-old former president called Cho Chul-hyun a "liar" and "Satan" in a memoir that was released in 2017.

Cho said he saw people firing at civilians from helicopters during 1980 demonstrations in the southwest city of Gwangju, where the president's trial was held. Chun denied such claims in his memoir. City residents had demonstrated against the military coup the year before that put Chun in power.

May 1980 uprising in Gwangju
Soldiers attacked Gwangju residents who protested the military takeover. The government says at least 200 people died, but other estimates say 2,000 died Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Na Kyung-Taek

South Korean news agency Yonhap said presiding judge Kim Jung-hoon found that there were reasonable grounds to conclude that shootings occurred from helicopters on two days in May 1980, an issue he called "historically very important." More than a dozen eyewitnesses said during the trial that such shootings took place.

The judge called on Chun to apologize for ultimately being responsible for the military clampdown on the protests.

"However, because this trial is not a trial about the uprising itself, our decision was made from the standpoint of the violated rights and interests of the victims," said the judge, according to Yonhap.

The uprising was suppressed by the military. Official estimates point to approximately 200 deaths, but other sources have said there were more than 2,000 deaths.

Chun Doo-Hwan's car gets egged by a passer-by
Chun Doo-Hwan did not apologize for his actions on Monday, angering local residents, including this one who egged his carImage: YNA/dpa/picture alliance

Priest Cho Young-dae, a nephew of the deceased activist, had filed the lawsuit He said he welcomed the verdict, but felt the suspended term was too lenient. Prosecutors had previously demanded an 18-month prison sentence for the former president. 

Surviving the death sentence

Chun led a military regime from 1980 to 1988. He and his successor, Roh Tae-woo, were convicted in August 1996 of inolvement in a military coup in 1979. Chun was sentenced to death, Roh was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison.

Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo
Former South Korean Presidents Chun Doo-hwan (l) and Roh Tae-woo (r) escaped severe sentences thanks to a presidential pardonImage: picture alliance/AP Photo/Yonhap

However, both sentences were rapidly pardoned by former President Kim Young-sam in 1997. He said the decision was to promote "national harmony."

kbd/msh (dpa, Reuters)