South Korean riot police stop some 1,000 students from marching into the home of former Korean dictator Chun Doo-Hwan, accused of ordering a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 1980 that left some 200 people killed in the southern city of Kwangju. AFP PHOTO (Photo by str/JEONG S.J. / AFP)

Since the Korean War, South Korea has been under bad leaders, including strongmen. Among many leaders, the former dictator Chun Doo-hwan was one of the worst presidents that South Korea has ever had. He seized power in a coup d’état, killing many citizens during pro-democracy protests in the 1980s.

In 1980, Chun deployed soldiers to Gwangju, suppressing citizens to make people kowtow to the army. Soldiers randomly beat citizens and raped women, prompting people in Gwangju to organize a pro-democracy movement, also known as the “Gwangju uprising.” As more citizens resisted the violence of the military, Chun ordered soldiers to kill protesters. Later, Chun repressed citizens across Korea, mobilizing the army and police to quell pro-democracy protests. Brutal torture against protesters was rife.

Small wonder then that most South Koreans, citizens of Gwangju in particular, are still frustrated by his atrocities. Four decades have passed since the Gwangju uprising, the former army general, however, is unashamedly denying his atrocities, such as treason and mass murder. And Koreans are outraged by his recent behavior.

Chun has been accused of defamation, after mocking Pius Cho, the late Catholic priest who testified that soldiers massacred citizens by mobilizing helicopters during the pro-democracy protest in Gwangju. In his memoir, Chun Doo-hwan, The Memoir, the former president ridiculed Cho as “Satan” and “shameless liar,” denying all of his atrocities. Cho’s family has accused Chun of defamation. 

On December 16, Chun’s defamation trial was conducted, but Chun didn’t attend, incensing South Koreans. Chun’s attorney claimed that the court has suggested his absence was due to the fact that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. But few Koreans believe what Chun’s attorney claimed.

In November, he was arrested at a golf course after continuously refusing to attend his trial, claiming that he was suffering Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, on December 12, he had luncheon with former army officials at a luxurious restaurant in Gangnam, Seoul, to celebrate the Coup d’état of December Twelfth in 1979, which made him the de facto leader of South Korea.

This, however, is not the first time that Chun has refused to submit to trial. Earlier this year, ahead of the beginning of defamation trial in March, the former army general has refused to attend trial, claiming that he had flu and Alzheimer’s disease – despite regularly playing golf. When the court tried to force him to attend his trial, Chun grudgingly faced his judges. At the court, he showed no sign of doing soul-searching over his misdeeds. If anything, he denied the allegations, expressing anger toward journalists when they asked him whether he had ordered soldiers to kill citizens in Gwangju.

Chun’s past misdeeds are unforgivable. Chun Doo-hwan, who has to atone for massacring citizens under his oppressive rule, has yet to admit his crimes or apologize to citizens and bereaved families of victims killed during the pro-democracy movements in the 1980s. 

Sul Hoon, a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party, members of which have been tortured under Chun’s regime, has said he regrets his decision to forgive Chun Doo-hwan, after finding that the former president never admitted to his atrocities. And what bereaved families of victims of the massacre in Gwangju want is Chun’s sincere apology. Alas, considering his recent behavior, Chun Doo-hwan is unlikely to apologize for massacring citizens.

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