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What Could Compensate for Their Four Years in Prison ?

Posted July. 25, 2002 22:19,   


“Having done nothing wrong, we were locked in a prison cell for three years and ten months. We didn’t give up our hopes and kept thinking the truth will reveal itself one day.” Three young men in their 20s visited solicitor Kim Chang-kyu in his office in Seocho-dong on the morning of July 25 to tell him how their military service turned into a nightmare.

27-year-old Jung, who was a sergeant at the time of the incident, was sentenced to life imprisonment on the charge of possession of arms and theft. 27-year-old Choi, also a sergeant at that time, and 28-year-old Lee, former staff sergeant, were convicted as accomplices and served their terms before freed on probation in May this year.

“We made a false statement in fear of investigators’ brutality,” they asked the court for a retrial. The Supreme Court on July 24 overturned the conviction ruling and they were acquitted after a long legal battle.

The three young men, who served in an army base near Hwacheon, Gangwon, were named as prime suspects in an arms theft case in August 1998, and arrested without warrants.

During interrogations, they were subject to acts of brutality and forced to make a false statement. Army investigators didn’t give them a drop of water and let them awake almost 24 hours. They finally made a false statement that they stole rifles to give their boss hard times and planned a robbery.

Nine felony charges, including stealing military belongings and plotting a robbery, were filed. What’s even more absurd is that they were sentenced to life imprisonment in a martial court for not telling where the stolen rifles were.

Later the higher court mitigated the ruling to five years in prison refusing to review the details, although the investigators were found guilty of excessive use of force.

They were determined not to stay in prison. They filed an appeal to Seoul Appellate Court for a retrial. And the court battle continued for more than a year. And on July 24, Judge Goo Wook-suh finally handed out a ruling that they were not guilty since “their confession was forced by brutality of investigators.” He said, “There is no evidence proving their crime.” The court also cited the military’s ruling out the possibility of their innocence and unconvincing testimonies by witnesses.

After the ruling, Jung said, “I can’t believe now I am free.” Jun was about to cry, “I thought to myself ‘what kind of democracy it is,’ eating like an animal on the floor with my body all tied up.”

“We will seek compensations against military investigators and prosecutors, but nothing can make up for the years in prison a young man like my son had to spend.”

“The ruling carries significance in that it rejected the confession made in the first trial given the closed and rigid nature of martial court,” said attorney Kim Chang-kyu who took the case.

Jung-Eun Lee lightee@donga.com