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Protests in Cheongsong County

Posted March. 27, 2010 06:51,   


Cheongsong County in North Gyeongsang Province means “green pine tree,” reminding one of scenery in which a crane comes down on a pine tree at any time. The county is an area where 83 percent of the land is forests and fields with high hills, deep valleys and clean water. It has abundant tourism resources, including a spring, spa and old houses. At the Jusanji Reservoir, dozens of willows more than 100 years old are half immersed in water, creating a splendid view with wet fog. Made in 1721, the reservoir was the location for the shooting of director Kim Ki-duk’s film “Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall...and Spring Again”

Many Koreans, however, associate the county with a prison built there in 1983 after the Chun Doo-hwan administration introduced in December 1980 a "protective custody system" for separating hardened criminals from society. The administration initially considered establishing such a prison on a remote island on the west coast. Problems with water supply and the living standards of prison guards, however, ultimately had the facilities built in Cheongsong County.

The Cheongsong Correctional Institution is at a place hard for inmate to break out. It is called "the fort of Papillon" because it is surrounded by a steep mountain and a river. Even the notorious jailbreaker Shin Chang-won could not break out of the prison. Gang leader Kim Tae-chon also served time there. While the Cheongsong prison became an average prison after the protective custody law was abolished in 2005, many high-profile criminals still are sent there. Many prisons are named after their locations, so the Cheongsong prison often appears in media reports because of the notoriety of its prisoners.

The people of Cheongsong County is protesting Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam`s suggestion of putting death row inmates in the prison and installing execution facilities. Cheongsong County Governor Han Dong-soo has asked the ministry to reconsider the plan, saying the move will hurt Cheongsong’s reputation. The leader of a Cheongsong civic group also says relocating execution facilities to such a small county like Cheongsong will make it a “county of prison or execution.” The county wants the central government to rename the prison without Cheongsong and rethink the plan to install execution facilities there. The government should consider this reasonable request with sincerity.

Editorial Writer Gwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)