Crime and Punishment

The Korea Times wrote a brief this week saying that now 64% of Koreans support the death penalty. But since 1997 there has been a de facto moratorium on capital punishment. The president at that time, Kim Dae Jung put this moratorium in place. Now, as Korea deals with one of its few serial killers, 6 in 10 Koreans believe the moratorium should abolished.

Korea’s history with capital punishment is interesting. Because of the tradition of Buddhism and Confucianism, the death penalty has rarely been used outside of political crimes. But under Japanese occupation, the death penalty was used all to often to quell the Korean Independence Movement and the exiled Korean regime. Even after the Korean War the death penalty was also used to quiet voices of dissent under authoritarian governments in the ’60s ’70s and ’80s. Once more stable democratic governments took over in the late 1980s there have been no political offenders put to death.

Then in 1998, Kim Dae Jung(Jeolla’s own) put a moratorium on the death penalty. The last execution was by hanging that happened in December 1997. Interestingly in 1980, Kim himself had been sentenced to death. He was such an outspoken opponent to the current government he was charged with sedition and conspiracy right around the same time as a coup and the Gwangju uprising in his home province. His sentence was changed to 20 years house arrest and he was eventually exiled to America where he taught at Harvard. This is the same man that instituted the Sunshine Policy with North Korea for which he became Korea’s only Nobel laureate.

But now Korea is nervous about the recent capture of its third serial killer since 2004. Since we have been here we have listened to our shocked co-workers talk about a few terrible murders in the country. This is really shocking because of how safe Korea has been. Supposedly in 2006, roughly 65% of Koreans opposed the abolition of the death penalty. But now in the wake of some heinous murders by Kang Ho-sun and others, and as Korea is more stable politically, the scale has tipped the other way.