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South Korea

Seoul's Responses

The pre-Korean War period was marked by political turmoil and widespread demands for sweeping political, economic, and social change. As the communists entrenched themselves in the north and right-of-center politicians emerged in control in the south, the possibility for peaceful unification of the peninsula disappeared. In the autumn of 1946, a series of unorchestrated leftist-led labor strikes and rural peasant rebellions were suppressed by the fledgling Korean National Police after some 1,000 deaths and 30,000 arrests. The communist South Korean Workers' Party led a partly indigenous guerrilla movement in the south after a major rebellion on Cheju Island in April 1948 that claimed tens of thousands of lives. South Korea's military and paramilitary forces were beset by mutinies and defections but eventually gained the upper hand. In reaction to the communist- based Yosu-Sunch'on rebellion of October 1948, a harsh national security law was passed in December 1949 that made communism a crime. However, the law was so comprehensive and vague that it could be used against any opposition group. Under the law, members of the South Korean Workers' Party were arrested and some 150,000 persons were barred from political activity. Guerrilla warfare continued until the end of 1949, coupled with skirmishing along the thirty-eighth parallel. North Korea's conventional attack followed when it became clear that the insurgents would not triumph easily.

Recollection of this chaotic period and the invasion from North Korea colored subsequent South Korean government attitudes toward internal security. Domestic opposition, especially from the left, was suspect. President Syngman Rhee's call for national unity provided political justification for limiting the activities of the opposition during the 1950s. Although the regime did not suppress all opposition or independent sources of information, it suppressed some organized opposition and criticism (see The Media , ch. 4).

In the late 1950s, as Rhee became more authoritarian, the government increasingly resorted to using the police force and to a lesser extent, the military security forces, for political purposes. The Ministry of Home Affairs, whose charter ranged from intelligence and investigative operations to supervision of local and provincial affairs, emerged as a powerful political force. The police, with a strong core of veterans from the Japanese colonial police (approximately 70 percent of the highest ranking officers, 40 percent of the inspectors, and 15 percent of the lieutenants), was both effective and feared. The police used strong-arm tactics to coerce support for the ruling party during elections and harassed the political opposition. The prerogative of the police to call in anyone for questioning was a powerful tool of intimidation. These circumstances inevitably led to police corruption, politicized law enforcement, and exploitation of the populace in the name of internal security. Rhee's political survival became more and more dependent on the police. When police control wavered at the time of the April 19 student revolution in April 1960, his regime fell.

The short-lived Chang Myon government (July 1960 to May 1961) did not survive long enough to articulate an internal security policy but was committed to a more open political system. However, because of internal conflict within the ruling party and the obstructions of the conservative opposition, society was in a state of political and social turmoil.

Following the May 16, 1961, military coup, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) was formed on June 19. Directly under the control of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, the KCIA, with nearly unlimited power, emerged as the organization most feared during the Park Chung Hee era. Under Kim Chong-p'il's direction, the organization weeded out anti-Park elements and became the prime tool keeping the regime in power.

Under Park, the lack of advancement in civil liberties continued to be justified by referring to the threat from North Korea. The political influence of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the police declined in the face of the KCIA's power. The relationship between the police and general public, however, was not significantly altered. As Se-Jin Kim wrote in 1971: "The former still act with arbitrary arrogance; the latter respond with fear but not respect."

The government often used martial law or garrison decree in response to political unrest. From 1961 to 1979, martial law or a variant was evoked eight times. The October 15, 1971, garrison decree, for example, was triggered by student protests and resulted in the arrest of almost 2,000 students. A year later, on October 17, 1972, Park proclaimed martial law, disbanded the National Assembly, and placed many opposition leaders under arrest (see The 1980 Constitution; Human Rights , ch. 4). In November the yusin constitution (yusin means revitalization), which greatly increased presidential power, was ratified by referendum under martial law.

The government grew even more authoritarian, governing by presidential emergency decrees in the immediate aftermath of the establishment of the yusin constitution; nine emergency decrees were declared between January 1974 and May 1975. The Park regime strengthened the originally draconian National Security Act of 1960 and added an even more prohibitive Anticommunism Law. Under those two laws and Emergency Measure Number Nine, any kind of antigovernment activity, including critical speeches and writings, was open to interpretation as a criminal act of "sympathizing with communism or communists" or "aiding antigovernment organizations." Political intimidation, arbitrary arrests, preventive detention, and brutal treatment of prisoners were not uncommon.

Opposition to the government and its harsh measures increased as the economy worsened in 1979. Scattered labor unrest and the government's repressive reactions sparked widespread public dissent: mass resignation of the opposition membership in the National Assembly and student and labor riots in Pusan, Masan, and Ch'angwon. The government declared martial law in the cities. In this charged atmosphere, under circumstances that appeared related to dissatisfaction with Park's handling of the unrest, on October 26, 1979, KCIA chief Kim Chae-gyu killed Park and the chief of the Presidential Security Force, Ch'a Chi-ch'ol, and then was himself arrested. Emergency martial law was immediately declared to deal with the crisis, placing the head of the Defense Security Command, Major General Chun Doo Hwan, in a position of considerable military and political power.

Popular demand for the restoration of civil liberties after Park's death was immediate and widespread. Acting President Ch'oe Kyu-ha revoked Emergency Measure Number Nine, which had forbidden criticism of the government and the yusin constitution. Civil rights were restored to almost 700 people convicted under the emergency decrees. The illegitimacy of the yusin constitution was acknowledged, and the process of constitutional revision begun.

The slow pace of reform led to growing popular unrest. In early May 1980, student demonstrators protested a variety of political and social issues, including the government's failure to lift emergency martial law imposed following Park's assassination. The student protests spilled into the streets, reaching their peak during May 13 to 16, at which time the student leaders obtained a promise that the government would attempt to speed up reform. The military's response, however, was political intervention led by Lieutenant General Chun Doo Hwan, then KCIA chief and army chief of staff. Chun, who had forced the resignation of Ch'oe's cabinet, banned political activities, assemblies, and rallies, and arrested many ruling and opposition politicians.

In Kwangju, demonstrations to protest the extension of martial law and the arrest of Kim Dae Jung turned into rebellion as demonstrators reacted to the brutal tactics of the Special Forces sent to the city. The government did not regain control of the city for nine days, after some 200 deaths.

General Chun Doo Hwan, as chairman of the standing committee of the Special Committee for National Security Measures (SCNSM), assumed de facto leadership of the country. The pronouncement of martial law announced as a result of Park's assassination remained in effect until January 24, 1981. Under the Special Committee for National Security Measures and the Legislative Council for National Security that replaced it, sweeping political controls were instituted. Established political parties were disbanded and over 800 people banned from politics; the media were restructured, many journals were abolished, and hundreds of journalists were purged; some 8,000 employees were purged from government or government-controlled companies and some 37,000 people were arrested and "re-educated" in military training camps under the Social Purification Campaign; and military court jurisdiction was extended to such civilian offenses as corruption and participation in antigovernment demonstrations. The new National Assembly Law and the amended National Security Act (which was rewritten to incorporate elements of the 1961 Anticommunist Law) also were passed. On January 10, 1981, the Martial Law Command allowed people to resume limited political activities in preparation for the presidential election.

The Fifth Republic's constitution marked significant progress from the yusin constitution. As implemented by the newly elected Chun government, however, it fell far short of popular expectations of democraticization that had been raised after Park's death. The constitution was attacked by students and dissidents as Park's yusin system under new trappings. The government attempted to defuse discontent by "decompression" as well as repression, gradually returning civil rights to those banned in 1980. Additionally, the government opened up the political system slightly in 1983 and to a greater degree in 1985, although the dissident movement continued.

Discontent was kept under control until 1987 by the regime's extensive security services--particularly the Agency for National Security Planning (ANSP, the renamed KCIA), the Defense Security Command (DSC), and the Combat Police of the Korean National Police (KNP). Both the civilian ANSP and the military DSC not only collected domestic intelligence but also continued "intelligence politics."

The Act Concerning Assembly and Demonstration was used to limit the expression of political opposition by prohibiting assemblies likely to "undermine" public order. Advanced police notification of all demonstrations was required. Violation carried a maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment or a fine. Most peaceful nonpolitical assemblies took place without government interference. However, the act was the most frequently used tool to control political activity in the Fifth Republic, and the Chun regime was responsible for over 84 percent of the 6,701 investigations pursued under the act.

The security presence in city centers, near university campuses, government and party offices, and media centers was heavy. Citizens, particularly students and young people, were subject to being stopped, questioned, and searched without due process. The typical response to demonstrations was disruption by large numbers of Combat Police, short-term mass detention of demonstrators, and selective prosecution of the organizers. Arrest warrants--required by law--were not always produced at the time of arrest in political cases.

The National Security Act increasingly was used after 1985 to suppress domestic dissent. Intended to restrict "antistate activities endangering the safety of the state and the lives and freedom of the citizenry," the act also was used to control and punish nonviolent domestic dissent. Its broad definition of offenses allowed enforcement over the widest range, wider than that of any other politically relevant law in South Korea. Along with other politically relevant laws such as the Social Safety Act and the Act Concerning Crimes Against the State, it weakened or removed procedural protection available to defendants in nonpolitical cases.

Questioning by the security services often involved not only psychological or physical abuse, but outright torture. The 1987 torture and death of Pak Chong-ch'ol, a student at Seoul National University being questioned as to the whereabouts of a classmate, played a decisive role in galvanizing public opposition to the government's repressive tactics.

The security services not only detained those accused of violating laws governing political dissent, but also put under various lesser forms of detention--including house arrest--those people, including opposition politicians, who they thought intended to violate the laws. Many political, religious, and other dissidents were subjected to surveillance by government agents. Opposition assembly members later charged in the National Assembly that telephone tapping and the interception of correspondence were prevalent. Ruling party assembly members, government officials, and senior military officials probably also were subjected to this interferencal though they did not openly complain.

Listening to North Korean radio stations remained illegal in 1990 if it were judged to be for the purpose of "benefiting the antistate organization" (North Korea). Similarly, books or other literature considered subversive, procommunist, or pro-North Korean were illegal; authors, publishers, printers, and distributors of such material were subject to arrest.

Use of tear gas by the police (over 260,000 tear gas shells were used in 1987 to quell demonstrations) increasingly was criticized; the criticism eventually resulted in legal restrictions on tear gas use in 1989. The government continued, however, to block many "illegal" gatherings organized by dissidents that were judged to incite "social unrest." In 1988 government statistics noted 6,552 rallies involving 1.7 million people. There were 2.2 million people who had particiated in 6,791 demonstrations in 1989.

Data as of June 1990

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