South Korean court acquits man executed in 1948


20 Jan

A South Korean court on Monday posthumously exonerated a man executed more than 70 years ago for assisting rebel forces, saying he had been wrongly convicted.

Chang Hwan-bong, then 29, was among hundreds of people who were accused of helping left-leaning soldiers in an armed uprising against the government in the southwestern cities of Yeosu and Suncheon in 1948.

They were sentenced to death just 22 days after their arrest for rebellion and were executed immediately.

But in 2009, a government truth panel found that around 438 civilians -- including Chang -- had been unjustly convicted and killed for collaborating with the rebel troops.

Historical issues often remain contentious in South Korea, which emerged from the turmoil of the Korean War and where politics are deeply divided between left and right.

Chang's daughter filed for a retrial in 2013, which was approved by the Supreme Court in March last year.

The Suncheon branch of the Gwangju District Court acquitted Chang on Monday, saying that the facts of his crimes cited in 1948 had not been proven.

"As a member of the judiciary, I want to make it clear that the execution of the ruling was by illegal power of the government and I make a deep apology," said Judge Kim Jung-ah.

The dead man's daughter Chang Kyung-ja said afterwards: "I am happy that my father's undeserved death has been proven."

Monday's decision was the first acquittal for civilians convicted in the 1948 incident, according to local reports.

The Committee for the Retrial of the Yeosu-Suncheon Incident -- an activist group campaigning for the victims -- welcomed the "historic ruling", saying it was "only the beginning" and as many as 5,000 civilians had been wrongly convicted.