A Seoul court on Thursday overturned a conviction from 39 years ago of the late dissident Chang Chun-ha who fought the dictatorship of former President Park Chung-hee.
Chang, a leading independence fighter and pro-democracy activist, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1974 for violation of the draconian Emergence Decree. The decree was declared unconstitutional and nullified in December 2010.
Clearing him of charges, the Seoul Central District Court apologized to his son who demanded the retrial.
“I feel a grave sense of responsibility in this solemn occasion in which (the court) makes a formal apology for the past wrongdoing committed by the government,” Justice Yu Sang-jae said.
“I express sincere respect and appreciation to the lofty spirit of the deceased, who sacrificed himself to lighten up the dark age of human rights when the constitutional spirit was brutally stamped.”
The decision came 38 years after his mysterious death.
Chang was arrested in 1974 on charges of “causing divides and fomenting social unrest” after he launched a petition campaign against a constitutional revision by Park, father of President-elect Park Geun-hye, in 1972 aimed at lengthening his term and tightening his dictatorial rule.
He was later released with a stay of execution of his sentence in December the same year. He died in August 1975. The government announced that he had accidentally fallen off a cliff.
However, Chang’s family and supporters alleged that he was murdered by Park Chung-hee’s agents.
“It took such a long time to finally have a retrial,” Chang’s eldest son Ho-gwon told reporters.
“(The court’s decision) reflects the determination and trust of the people, and it also proves that the judiciary is the last resort for the people,” he added.
By Oh Kyu-wook (email@example.com