It’s sad how change awaits tragedy. South Korea had a serious police brutality problem. It took the police secretly killing a student to motivate activist groups. It then took the police publicly killing a student to motivate the whole country.

This is that story.

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  • Bak Jeong-chol (Park Jeong-chol)
    • Died (Jan 14, 1987)
    • Information suppressed by the government
      • Hwang Jeok-jun performed the autopsy
        • Pressured by police to say he died from “shock in the heart”
        • Refused and said he “suffocated due to neck pressure”
      • Choi Hwan (prosecutor) was told by police to immediately cremate the body to hide evidence
        • Could instantly tell he was tortured
        • Refused to comply
    • Somehow this information landed in the hands of Rep. Lee Bu-yong, who was in jail for leading an anti-government rally in May 1986
      • Wrote a letter disclosing the scheme
      • Two prison guards helped him get it out
      • Passed to a third guard
      • Landed in the hands of the Korean Catholic Church two months after the death
        • Read aloud in May 1987 by Father Kim Seung-hun during a ceremony commemorating the Gwangju Uprising
        • Korean Catholic church had historically been more democratic, which was one reason it was suppressed in the Joseon era
    • Prosecutor Lee Hong-kyu leaked info to SSH
    • JoonAng Ilbo reporter Shin Sung-ho (SSH)
      • Slept in a motel near his office to evade authorities
    • Catholic Priests Association for Justice (CPAJ) with a doctor (Oh Yeon-sang), prosecutor, and the JoongAng Ilbo (Shin Sung-ho) exhumed the cover-up on May 18
      • Inflamed the public
      • Planned a demonstration on June 10

This Episode

  • During the street protests, Chun Doo-hwan’s (CDH) press people were claiming that the opposition was against democracy because they took their protests to the streets and not the ballot box
    • “The opposition has taken this undemocratic decision. But we hope that they will return to the table.” – Foreign Press Secretary
  • Lee Han-yeol
  • The demonstrations started out only in the core groups
    • (June 9) Yonsei University students demonstrated
    • Tear gas grenade penetrated his skull
    • Became the symbol of the protests from then forward
    • (July 5) died
    • Over 1.6 million participated in his funeral (July 9th)
    • Buried at the May 18th National Cemetery
  • (June 10) Jamsil Arena – CDH’s Democratic Justice Party nominated his hand picked successor, Roh Tae-woo (RTW)
  • Major demonstrations around country (~240,000 people in 22 cities)
    • Grew beyond the core
  • (June 18) Rally against tear gas grenades
    • 1.5 million, 16 cities
    • White collar workers joined, throwing rolls of toilet paper
  • (June 19) CDH mobilized the army
    • Feared another Gwangju Massacre
    • Recalled the army a few hours later
  • (June 26) Great National March of Peace
    • Over 1 million, 34 cities
    • 3.467 detained
  • (June 29) CDH – June 29th Declaration Special Declaration for Grand National Harmony and Progress Towards a Great Nation 국민들의 민주화와 직선제 개헌요구를 받아들여 발표한 특별선언
    • Speech by RTW
    • Promised concessions to the opposition
    • Eight points
      • amend the constitution to provide for the direct election of the president;
      • revise the presidential election law to ensure free candidature and genuinely competitive elections;
      • grant amnesty to political prisoners, including Kim Dae-jung;
      • protect human dignity and extend the right of habeas corpus;
      • abolish the Basic Press Law and restore the freedom of the press;
      • strengthen local and educational autonomy;
      • move the political climate towards dialogue and compromise; and
      • achieve substantial social reform.


  • Korea’s labor unions were mostly borne from this (Hyundai Engine Trade Union, July 3, 1987)
    • 1,060 new labor unions, 3,456 (July – September)
  • (Dec 1987) first elections in 15 years
  • RTW was still elected president
    • Opposition divided between the Two Kims –  KYS and KJD
      • Likely would have defeated RTW if united
      • RTW 36.6%
      • KYS 28%
      • KJD 27%
      • 89.2% turnout
    • Bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 the day before the election by a North Korean agent
    • Roh continued some of the authoritarian practices of CDH
  • 30 years later
    • (2005) National Intelligence Service busted for bugging phones of 1,800 lawmakers and journalists (1998-2002)
    • (2011) NIS got psychological warfare agents to sabotage internet conversations
    • PGH’s blacklist at the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism of 9,473 artists for liberal views
  • The building where Park Jong-chol and others were tortured has become the Democratic Human Rights Memorial Hall
  • Quote from Manjeok