On September 28, over 1,000 supporters of farmer Baek Nam-gi and his family camped out overnight in and around the funeral hall building where Baek’s body is being kept. Upon hearing news of a court decision to grant a warrant for autopsy to South Korea’s National Police Agency (NPA), supporters of the farmer activist prepared to stand their ground against a potential raid by the police. Noticeable tensions arose in the funeral hall building in anticipation of any provocation by the police now free to seize the body of Baek with no legal restriction in its way.
The NPA and the Prosecutor General’s office reapplied for the warrant after being denied previously by the court on September 25. During the reapplication process, the court requested additional documents including an explanation of the purpose and justifications for conducting an autopsy. On the morning of September 28, the Prosecutor General’s office submitted the supplemental documents and in the evening of the same day, the court authorized the police with a “search, seizure, and examination warrant for Baek’s autopsy.”
Even prior to the court’s issuing of the warrant, the family of Baek had come out against the NPA and prosecutors’ pursuit of an autopsy. The family members wrote a letter of petition to the judge asking that the court reject the application for an autopsy warrant. In the letter, the family stated, “We absolutely don’t want the hands of the police that took [our father’s] life to touch his body.”
The family’s position remains unchanged after the court’s decision to issue the warrant. Baek Nam-gi’s daughters, Doraji and Minjuhwa Baek, voiced the family’s disappointment at the court’s decision and stated, “The family absolutely does not want an autopsy.”
It is expected that supporters will continue to stay in the vicinity of the funeral hall in order to protect Baek’s body from being seized by the South Korean police. The autopsy warrant is valid until October 25. The police stated that it will make efforts to consider the position of the family members and come to an agreement with them before attempting to conduct the autopsy. However, Baek’s supporters are preparing for the worst case scenario – police use of force to seize the body against the family’s wishes.
Civic Groups Demand SK Government Take Responsibility for Death of Baek Nam-gi
As the South Korean police and prosecutors push for an autopsy, presumably to clear themselves from any responsibility for Baek’s death, civic groups and supporters of Baek Nam-gi are increasing efforts to demand an independent special prosecutor to investigate the responsible parties.
On September 29, 400 people gathered in front of Sejong Cultural Center in Seoul to present a joint declaration with the following demands:
- Stop the National Police Agency’s attempts to conduct an autopsy and issue an official apology to the family
- Conduct a thorough investigation of the incident and hold accountable those who were responsible for Baek’s injury and death;
- Stop abusing the power entrusted to the government by citizens; stop state violence against citizens and immediately ban the use of water cannons, which led to the death of Baek Nam-gi.
Several thousand individuals from various civic organizations, communities, and political parties signed to endorse this declaration.
Police Ordered to Tear Down Memorial Altars in Honor of Baek Nam-gi
Evidence of the South Korean police taking measures to repress any form of public display of support for Baek Nam-gi surfaced earlier this week. National Assembly Representative Pyo Chang-won (Minjoo Party) – former police detective and current member of the Safety Administration Committee of the National Assembly – discovered a document circulating in police stations across South Korea on September 25 following the passing of Baek. The document revealed that all local police units responding to protests had been ordered to take extra steps to prevent or disrupt public commemorations of Baek Nam-gi. Specifically, police officers were told to shut down all public memorial gatherings and tear down all Baek Nam-gi memorial altars set up in public areas.
Pyo revealed his discovery to the media on September 27 as he criticized the police agency for its lack of respect towards Baek and his family. Pyo stated, “This document confirms that the police planned to turn the innocent act of memorializing [Baek] into an illegal act and prevent memorial altars from being set up… This shows that [the police] failed to treat the deceased [Baek] and his family with even a minimal level of common courtesy.”
Following the passing of Baek, the main group coordinating the efforts to bring justice to the perpetrators of state violence against the 69-year-old farmer – the Headquarters for the Struggle to Investigate the Use of State Violence against the Farmer Baek Nam-gi, Punish Those Responsible, and Denounce the Murderous Administration – had called on citizens to show support by setting up public memorial altars and joining the struggle to protect Baek’s body from being seized by the police. However, many supporters holding public memorial ceremonies were met by disruptive cops ordering them to take down the memorial altars.
Overseas Koreans Light Candles for Baek Nam-gi and Call for Government Accountability
Overseas Koreans in the U.S. are also responding to the call for memorial services and commemorative rallies in honor of Baek Nam-gi. In several cities in the U.S., Korean communities have been coordinating efforts to show solidarity with Baek’s family and supporters fighting for justice. In Washington DC and Los Angeles, Korean activists set up memorial altars in remembrance of Baek Nam-gi. At a memorial service in Washington DC, organizers gave respects to Baek and renounced the South Korean government for failing to give an apology or conduct a full investigation despite video evidence and a bevy of witnesses.
Koreans in New York and Los Angeles are planning to hold candlelight vigils in their respective cities on Friday September 30 – in solidarity with Baek Nam-gi supporters in South Korea who will hold a candlelight vigil and rally on Saturday, October 1. The overseas Koreans in the U.S. are also calling for a full investigation by an independent special prosecutor and an end to use of excessive force (and other forms of state violence) against citizens by the police.
The U.S. solidarity candlelight vigils will be held Friday September 30 in New York at 7pm (EST) in front of the New York South Korean Consulate General office and in Los Angeles at 6:30pm (PST) in front of the Los Angeles South Korean Consulate office.
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