November 14 marks one year since farmer and activist Baek Nam-gi was struck by high-powered blasts of water shot by the police during last year’s mass People Power Mobilization. Baek was immediately knocked unconscious and remained in a state of coma until his death almost a year later on September 25, 2016.
In the memory of the late farmer and activist, who dedicated his life to the South Korean people’s fight for democracy, 100 supporters of Baek gathered on November 14 to stage a “die-in” demonstration in the middle of a street in Seoul. This was not only a tribute to Baek and his lifelong struggle for justice in the face of brutal state repression and violence but also a reminder to South Korean citizens of how he died unjustly from state-sanctioned violence. The demonstration included a display of signs showing the following text: “We are Baek Nam-gi,” “Punish all those responsible for [Baek’s] death,” “Park Geun-hye resign!”
For most of his life, Baek Nam-gi was a political activist who had struggled for democracy during the dictatorship eras of South Korean history. Baek was a student activist who led students in demonstrations against Park Chung-hee (father of current president, Park Geun-hye) in the 1970s, for which he was expelled from school on multiple occasions. He also led demonstrations against the dictator Chun Doo-hwan who took power after Park’s death. Under Chun’s rule, Baek was not only expelled from school yet again but also arrested and sent to prison.
Following his release from prison, Baek became a farmer and dedicated his life to fighting for rights, livelihood, and better conditions for farmers. On the day of November 14, 2015, Baek had departed his farm to travel to Seoul, where he protested with fellow farmer activists against the Park Geun-hye administration’s unjust agriculture policies and refusal to consider the voices of poor rural farmers. It was on that day, while marching in the streets of Seoul to break through barriers created by the riot police, that he was struck by a water cannon continuously until he fell to the ground and became unresponsive.
During Baek’s year-long battle for his life in a coma, his family demanded justice and all those responsible for his death be held accountable. Yet, the South Korean government blatantly ignored the demands of Baek’s family and supporters until his passing on September 25, 2016. Immediately following his death, the South Korean police (with the backing of the Park Geun-hye administration) employed various tactics to cover up and avoid taking responsibility, despite overwhelming evidence of their responsibility in the death of Baek Nam-gi. For nearly a month, the police tried to seize the body of Baek to conduct their own autopsy despite the family’s strong opposition.
Last month, the family and supporters of Baek Nam-gi were able to fend off the police and prevent them from seizing his body. After a month-long fight with the police, Baek’s family was finally able to hold a proper funeral for him on November 5.
The fight for Baek Nam-gi continues. The family of Baek still seeks justice. The police have yet to be held accountable for using excessive force against Baek that led to his death. The Park Geun-hye administration has actively prevented an independent investigation from happening. And so those who stand on the side of justice continue to remind the South Korean people of what happened one year to this day.
By ZoominKorea staff