On June 16, the chief of the National Police Agency of South Korea issued an apology to the family of fallen activist and farmer Baek Nam-gi. Baek died from severe injuries after being struck by high-powered blasts of water shot by riot police during a mass demonstration in November 2015. Baek was part of a broad united front of workers, farmers and the urban poor protesting former President Park Geun-hye’s authoritarian rule.
The apology was little consolation for Baek’s family as it came over a year and a half after the police’ use of excessive force landed Baek in a coma from which he never awoke. Baek finally succumbed to his injuries in September 2016 after being in a state of coma for a year.
Immediately following Baek’s death in September 2016, the police deployed a thousand officers to forcibly seize his body for an autopsy against the wishes of his family. Baek’s family and supporters successfully fought off the police and prevented them from tampering with his body to construct false evidence.
The June 16 police apology came one day after the Seoul University Hospital — where Baek was treated until his death — officially changed key wording on Baek’s death certificate. The certificate, which originally stated Baek’s cause of death as “illness,” now says that he “died from trauma caused by external force.”
Prior to the revision, the police had refused to accept responsibility for Baek’s death on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence linking its use of force to his death.
Baek’s daughter Baek Doraji characterized the apology as a performance to save face rather than a genuine gesture of remorse. The police’ apology also made no mention of how justice will be served. Baek’s family and supporters continue to call for an investigation and disciplinary action to hold those responsible for Baek’s death accountable. They demand:
- The immediate release of hearing and audit reports regarding the day of the incident;
- Investigation and punishment for those responsible for Baek’s death as well as the police attempt to seize Baek’s corpse for an autopsy without the family’s permission; and
- An end to the use of water cannons at demonstrations.
The fight for justice for Baek Nam-gi continues, and his family and supporters are also likely to demand the appointment of a special prosecutor for an independent investigation.
By ZoominKorea staff
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