SOUTH KOREA: Exposing suspicious deaths in South Korea

Dear Friends,

We’re forwarding you the following appeal made by Beginning a Solidarity Electronically in the 21st Century (BASE21) in South Korea.

After President Kim Dae-jung took office, the South Korean government set up the Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths (PTCSD) to bring to light suspicious deaths that took place during the last dictatorial regime.

Recently, the Truth Commission announced that Mr. Park Young-do, one of the people who was killed at a detention centre in 1984, was tortured to death by prison guards. Even though this report was submitted to President Kim Dae-jung, the Korean government, especially the Ministry of Justice, did not admit responsibility for this incident and did not take any further action.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges you to write a letter to express your concern and to put pressure on the Korean government to take further action to provide more details about this incident and to accept responsibility for his death.

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission




Urgent Appeal Regarding a Victim of Torture

We request your URGENT intervention regarding an incident of gross human rights violations in South Korea.

Brief Description of the Incident

The Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths (PTCSD) recently announced its findings on the case of Park Young-Do, a person who was found dead at the Chung Song Correctional Centre in 1984. The commission found that he had been tortured to death by the prison guards.

According to the report of the commission, Park had been forcefully taken to Sahm Chung Training Camp, a detention camp set up by former President Chun Doo-hwan to arbitrarily put the country’s “social scum?behind bars by using the need to restore public order as an excuse. Park was taken to the camp in August 1980 by the Martial Law Command Squad for his previous criminal record as a street gangster. Without a proper trial, he was first sentenced to a four-week forced training period in the camp by a military ad hoc committee called the Separate Review Committee. Afterwards, he was continuously subjected to arbitrary detention and harassment up until his death in 1984.

Arbitrary Detentions and Ill-Treatment

After having served his six-month term, which was extended from the original four-week term at Sahm Chung Training Camp, Park was sentenced by the Committee for the Protection of Society on Jan. 6, 1981, to another two years in the Centre for Preventive Custody, a special detention facility set up according to the Law for the Protection of Society. The decision was based on Article 5 of the supplementary provisions to the Law for the Protection of Society, which state that a person with a high tendency to recommit acts of violence can be put under preventive custody for a period prescribed in Article 5, Paragraph 2, of the country’s martial law. The Centre for Preventive Custody was, indeed, a place where the observance of basic human rights of inmates did not exist. The inmates were subjected to constant ill-treatment, including ruthless beatings on a daily basis.

On Oct. 1, 1981, Park and other inmates witnessed an act of brutality committed by a prison guard toward a inmate who was about 50 years old. They all became infuriated and started raising their voices against the prison authorities, calling for an end to the ill-treatment of inmates. They requested a talk with the warden, but their request was denied.

This led to a violent confrontation between the inmates and the prison guards in which two inmates and a soldier were killed. Park and 18 other leaders were brought before a military court on Dec. 28, 1981. Park was found guilty of the charge of destroying military equipment and special larceny and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In March 1983, Park was sent to the First Chung Song Centre of Preventive Custody (currently the Chung Song Correctional Centre).

Park, however, did not stop his resistance against the undemocratic and ruthless practices of the military authorities toward inmates even after he was transferred to the First Chung Song Centre of Preventive Custody. He, along with other inmates transferred from Sahm Chung, continued their protests by refusing to eat while calling for the abolishment of the Law for Preventive Custody, better treatment for all inmates and the downfall of the Chun Doo-hwan administration. When one of the inmates was violently assaulted by the prison guards and soldiers belonging to the Special Task Force, Park and three other leaders created a disturbance in the prison to rebuke the brutality against the prisoners. As a result, Park and another inmate on Dec. 7 were put into the Seventh Cell, a special solitary cell designed to keep a person separate from the rest of the inmates. The tension between the prison guards and the inmates continued until October 1984 when Park was tortured to death.

Denial of Medical Care

At about 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 12, 1984, Park made several complaints to the prison guards that he was ill and wanted to see a doctor. A prison guard reported it to his superiors, but it was ignored. When Park continuously asked the prison guards to take him to the clinic, two prison guards, Yi Jahm-sool and Park Soo-ho, took him to a room in the basement that was usually used for interrogation. There they began to torture him, which resulted in his death.

Torture and Death

Having noticed that Park was not taken to the clinic but instead to an interrogation room, the inmates expressed their anger by kicking their cell doors. Soon a group of prison guards arrived to quiet the prisoners, and they took another inmate to the interrogation room. He witnessed how brutally Park had been tortured.

It is now known that eight to nine prison guards tortured Park. The bodies of Park and another inmate were bent backward with their hands tied to their feet with a rope. A club was then put between their hands and their neck. The guards also tied Park’s arms behind his back with his elbows adjacent to each other. In addition, the guards used a club, double-twined ropes, rubber hoses, military shoes and strips of leather to beat them. The torture continued for two hours. In the meantime, Park became unconscious three to four times. Every time the guards woke him up by placing a cloth bag on his head and throwing water on it.

At 5:30 p.m., the guards carried him to another cell by using a stick put across the rope tied to his hands and feet. Although they removed the wooden stick that had been put between his arms and neck, they kept Park in a bow-like body position. Park moaned from the pain and vomited a couple of times. However, the guards did not have Park examined by a doctor. Although the ropes were loosened one time, several attempts by some conscientious guards to give Park proper attention remained in vain.

About 5:30 a.m. the next day, a guard who was on patrol noticed that Park was not moving and reported it to the guard in charge of Park. They went into the cell and found Park dead.

Covering Up the Truth

The prison authorities made a report on Park’s death the same day without using proper post-mortem examination procedures. They put in the report that the cause of death was a heart attack. In addition, a public prosecutor assigned to investigate Park’s death complied with requests by the prison authorities by ordering an autopsy of the body the next day by a local doctor just to have him agree that the cause of death was a heart attack. They then buried Park’s body without his family being present at his burial.


Please write to the authorities in South Korea and urge them to:

– Officially acknowledge the report of the Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths on Park’s case and take further governmental actions that are necessary to bring those responsible to justice;

– Become a signatory to the 1968 U.N. Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity and ensure prompt and impartial investigations into crimes against humanity, including Park’s death, in order to prosecute those responsible by bringing them to trial and applying the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law;

– Abolish the practice of illegal or arbitrary detention and put an end to the practice of torture, ill-treatment and summary execution;

– Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of all detainees in South Korean detention facilities at all times and allow detainees to have immediate access to legal counsel and medical care;

– Guarantee all human rights and fundamental freedoms and conform their actions to international standards as established in international pacts and covenants.


Mr. Kim, Dae-jung
President of Republic of Korea
The Chungwoadae
1 Sejong-ro, Chonro-gu,
Seoul, 110-050
FAX: +822 770-0253
SALUTATION: Your Excellency

Send copies to:

Mr. Choi, Kyung-Won,
Minister of Justice
Government Complex
1 Jongahng-Dong
Kwachun City, Kyunggi Province
FAX: +822 500-2125

Mr. Shin, Sahng Chul
Warden of Chung Song Correctional Centre
55-1 Kwangduk-Ri, Jinbo-Myun
Chungsong-Goon, North Kyungshang

Please send a copy of your letter to BASE21 Urgent Appeals (with cc to two members in charge of the matters related to suspicious deaths Sooyun Lee and H. Sarah Kim (
Fax: +(822) 3927904 (Korean Council for Democratic Martyrs)

* Please contact the urgent appeals coordinator if you require more information or wish to report human rights violations.

Document Type : Forwarded Urgent Appeal
Document ID : FA-09-2001
Countries : South Korea,
Issues : Torture,