On September 25, Baek Nam-gi, a farmer and activist, passed away after nearly a year of clinging on to his life in a coma. Baek suffered severe injuries last November during the mass People Power Mobilization when the South Korean riot police blasted high-pressure water cannons at protestors. The then 68-year-old farmer was protesting the government’s agricultural policies that put profits before the livelihood of farmers. Baek was struck directly by unrelenting blasts of water by the police and sustained injuries that induced him into a coma.
Upon hearing news of Baek’s death, hundreds of supporters gathered at Seoul National University Hospital, where Baek had been hospitalized, to pay their respect to him and his family. Immediately after the hospital’s announcement of Baek’s death, thousands of South Korean police officers surrounded the hospital. Even prior to any announcement, hundreds of police had been deployed to the hospital in anticipation of Baek’s death.
Scenes of Baek Nam-gi’s Body Being Transported to Funeral Hall and Police Surrounding Seoul University Hospital
The following video shows citizens fighting off police officers attempting to take custody of Mr. Baek’s body, without the consent of his family, for an autopsy.
(Video – Media Mongu – mongu.net)
Below are brief descriptions of each scene in the video:
0:00 – 0:12
Hundreds of police proceed to Seoul National University Hospital and occupy surrounding area of building.
0:13 – 0:19
All entrances and exits to the hospital are closed off and taken over by police.
0:20 – 0:52
Police officers are also stationed in front of the main entrance to the hospital building (Citizens questioning why police are surrounding the hospital).
0:53 – 0:59
Inside the hospital in front of Intensive Care Unit.
0:59 – 1:15
Supporter of Baek Nam-gi speaking to reporters:
“[Mr. Baek] has passed away and we have to transport him, but it looks as though the police are trying to bring [Mr. Baek’s body] in for an autopsy. For now, we are getting ready to transport him to the funeral hall…”
1:35 – 2:34
Baek Nam-gi’s body is transported from the Intensive Care Unit to an ambulance.
2:35 – 3:20
Police approach funeral hall.
Citizens block police from entering funeral hall.
3:21 – 3:40
College students (and other supporters) lock arms and form a human shield around the ambulance to prevent police from taking the body of farmer Baek.
3:41 – 4:39
Ambulance and people protecting it move towards funeral hall.
4:40 – 5:14
Ambulance safely arrives at mortuary.
Mr. Baek’s body accompanied by family members is transported into the building of the mortuary.
5:15 – 5:43
At approximately the same time, citizens block police approaching funeral hall building.
Citizens chant, “Killer cops, go away! Killer cops, go away!”
5:44 – 8:02
A unit of police is discovered attempting to approach another entrance to the funeral hall.
Police with riot gear use force to push back citizens.
Citizens prevent police from moving closer to the funeral hall.
8:03 – 8:23
Citizens sit in front of the main entrance to the funeral hall building to prevent entry by the police.
8:24 – 8:53
Police in neon green vests occupy surrounding area of the funeral hall building.
8:53 – 9:02
Police block supporters of Mr. Baek from entering funeral hall to give their condolences. Citizen yells at police: “All citizens of the Republic of Korea should be equal before the law! National Assembly members are allowed in, but are ordinary citizens not allowed to enter to give condolences? What kind of rule is that?”
Supporters Call for Independent Investigation while Police Deny Responsibility
Baek Nam-gi supporters are continuing to demand a proper investigation (with an independent special prosecutor) of the incident to determine who is responsible for the state-sanctioned act of violence against Baek, who was exercising his constitutional right to protest. They are also demanding accountability from the Park Geun-hye administration for its involvement in causing the death of farmer Baek.
South Korea’s national police force has yet to issue an official apology for using excessive force that caused the injuries and eventual death of Baek, and the government has yet to take any responsibility. Instead, the police are trying to take custody of Baek’s body to conduct its own autopsy, which Baek’s supporters worry can lead to a distorted narrative on the cause of his death. Lee Chul-sung, chief of the National Police Agency, has been arguing that Baek’s death was not related to the injuries sustained from the water cannon blasts that landed him into a coma for 10 months. Medical examiners and records, however, have shown that brain damage sustained from the water cannon blasts is the primary cause of death.
The court has rejected the National Police Agency’s request for a warrant to conduct an autopsy. However, the agency is expected to apply for the warrant again once it has consulted with the general prosecutor. Additionally, the police was able to seize Baek’s medical records with a warrant granted by the court. Civil society groups and organizations like the Lawyers for a Democratic Society have condemned the National Police Agency for its attempts to request warrants for seizing medical records and conducting an autopsy.
Supporters of Baek mourned the death of the 69-year-old farmer’s death with a candlelight vigil and plan to continue to hold a vigil every evening at 7pm.
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