A South Korean court has acquitted a man after 70 years of his execution on January 20. Chang Hwan-bong, then 29 was among hundreds who was given a death sentence for assisting the rebel forces of North Korea. The judge reportedly said that Chang was wrongly convicted of helping the left-leaning soldiers in an armed uprising against the government of southwestern cities of Yeosu and Suncheon in 1948. According to local reports, Monday's ruling by the court was also the first acquittal for civilians who were killed during that time.
All the people who were involved in the conflict were sentenced to death just 22 days after their arrest for rebellion were immediately executed. It was in 2009 that a truth panel by the government found out nearly 438 civilians, including Chang, were killed due to unjust conviction. Issues emerging from the turmoil of the Korean War remain contentious in the country divided between left and right.
Chang's daughter had filed for a retrial in 2013 which was approved by the apex court of South Korea in March 2018. The executed man's daughter said she is “happy” after the court's ruling because “undeserved death of her father has been proven.” The Suncheon branch of the Gwangju District Court acquitted Chang and said the facts of his crimes of 1948 had not been proven. Judge Kim Jung-ah also said that Chang's death was a result of “illegal power” of the government.
"As a member of the judiciary, I want to make it clear that the execution of the ruling was by illegal power of the government and I make a deep apology," said Judge Kim Jung-ah.
Furthermore, an activist group campaigning for the victims of Yeosu-Suncheon incident and the Committee for their Retrial lauded the court's decision and called it “historic ruling”. The committee also mentioned that recent ruling is “only the beginning” of acquittals as more than 5,000 civilians who were wrongly convicted and then executed.