Former South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan (center) arrives for his trial on defamation charges at a court in Gwangju on Nov. 30. (Photo: AFP)
South Korea's strict defamation laws caught up with former dictator president Chun Doo-hwan for describing late Catholic priest Cho Chul-hyun as "Satan wearing a mask."The 89-year old Chun, known as "the butcher of Gwangju," called Father Cho a "liar" and "Satan" in a memoir released in 2017. Chun was indicted in 2018 for making slanderous statements about the priest, who died in 2016.
Chun went against the priest after he claimed that military helicopters fired at civilians in Gwangju, about 330 kilometers from Seoul, during an uprising in 1980, a year after Chun seized power in a military coup.
Chun turned down court summonses several times, citing health reasons like Alzheimer's disease.
Under South Korean defamation laws, the accused faces up to two years in prison and a fine of 5 million won (US$4,500).
The Gwangju uprising, which claimed more than 200 lives, started after the disgraced ex-leader expanded martial law in 1980. The military crushed the uprising.
Father Cho Chul-hyun had testified to witnessing the military shooting from helicopters during the Gwangju uprising.
Chun had denied that any helicopter shots were fired at protesters and called the late priest "Satan wearing a mask."
However, during the libel suit trial, prosecutors introduced nearly 20 witnesses who corroborated what the deceased priest had claimed.
South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted the presiding judge as saying that there were reasonable grounds to conclude that shootings from helicopters took place for two days in May 1980.
Chun and his successor, Roh Tae-woo, were convicted in August 1996 over their involvement in the coup in 1979. Chun was sentenced to death, while Roh was given more than 22 years in jail.The court found Chun guilty of mutiny, treason and corruption. He spent more than two years in the Anyang Correctional Institution near Seoul.
However, both leaders were pardoned by then president Kim Young-sam in 1997 on the advice of then president-elect Kim Dae-jung.The government said the decision was to promote national harmony.