Korea: Jeju massacre victims get their names cleared in court


The Jeju District Court overturned military court rulings that imprisoned Jeju Islanders in a bloody ideological conflict from 1948 to 1954, Thursday, clearing the names of the 18 surviving plaintiffs and recognizing them as wronged victims of the Jeju April 3 Uprising and Massacre. The ruling panel said the national security and anti-rebellion charges the military court applied to the plaintiffs under martial law from 1948 to 1949 were groundless. “As the military court did not follow proper legal procedures against the plaintiffs, we hereby drop the indictment,” Jae Gal-chang, the presiding judge, said in the retrial of the case.


Dropping indictment means ending the suit because the military court rulings were made illegally and are thus invalid. This, thus, clears them of the charges. “The fact the plaintiffs do not know for what criminal charges they were tried, as well as evidence showing countless people were passed through the military court in a short time, makes it unlikely proper investigations or legal procedures took place.” The suit was filed by 18 plaintiffs who were jailed after being branded as communist insurgents ― with around 2,500 others ― during the ideological conflict that flared up on the southern island after Korea’s independence from Japan. Many died in captivity. Even after surviving the massacre and imprisonment, the plaintiffs were ostracized by the community or disadvantaged in their job applications for having criminal records. The plaintiffs hailed the ruling, some shedding tears. They stood behind a placard that read: “Now we are not guilty” for a press conference in front of the court.


“I was taken by the police, tortured and jailed 70 years ago without knowing why. I had deep resentment, but now I was found not guilty,” said Park Dong-su, 86, one of the victims. “I can live a new, second life. I’ll never forget this moment until I die.” Yang Dong-yun, the head of a coalition of islanders to uncover the facts of the incident and restore victims’ honor, said justice has been realized. “Now we’ll file a compensation suit for their time spent in prison on the false charges. As they are aged, I’ll make efforts for them to get state compensation as soon as possible.” The ruling is likely to incite a similar suit from 10 other surviving victims who were similarly jailed in 1948 and 1949. The plaintiffs demanded a retrial in 2017, saying they were arrested and imprisoned for up to 20 years without fair procedure. There were no court records found from the time explaining why the plaintiffs were given such harsh sentences. The court decided to reopen the case last September, following renewed public interest in the incident with the start of the massacre’s 70th anniversary last April and a state apology by President Moon Jae-in last March. During the hearings, the prosecution also asked the court to drop all criminal charges against the plaintiffs.


The Jeju Uprising and Massacre ― sometimes called 4.3 after the date of one of the first conflicts in a series of escalating ones ― took place between Jeju’s local People’s Committee and the right-wing Northwest Youth League dispatched to the island during the command of the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) and later under the Syngman Rhee administration, shortly after the nation achieved independence from Japan and was divided. Though the conflict involved violence from both sides, noncombatant islanders suffered the heaviest casualties. An estimated 30,000 ― or 10 percent of the island’s population ― were killed in the name of rooting out “communist insurgents.”


By Lee Suh-yoon

(Korea Times)

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