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Compensation for false imprisonment

Posted August. 02, 2013 05:32,   


In the Korean blockbuster “Miracle in Cell no.7” attracted 12 million viewers after its release in January this year, Lee Yong-goo, the mentally-challenged character played by Ryu Seung-ryong, is sentenced to death after being falsely accused of killing the daughter of the police commissioner. The audience lament and shed tears in the scene where he admits that he did the crime for fear of any harm to his only daughter, Ye-seung. Later, the daughter passes the national bar examination and tries to clear her father’s false accusation. But it is too late. It is only the recovery of the tainted reputation of the dead.

There is difference between the movie and the true story of Jeong Won-seop. The 79-year-old man was falsely accused of raping and killing a nine-year-old daughter of the head of a police station in Chuncheon in September 1972. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. After 15 years of his term, he was released as a model prisoner before Christmas in 1987. Then, he appealed to the court for a retrial and the court ruled him innocent. He also filed for a claim for damages to the state, and the court ruled that he should be compensated with 2.64 billion won (2.34 million U.S. dollars). It is 480,000 won (427.4 dollars) per day.

Byeon Yang-ho, a former head of the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Finance Ministry, spent 292 days in prison during the trial, after being arrested for allegedly taking bribes of 200 million won (178,000 dollars) from the Hyundai Motor Group in June 2006. He was ruled innocent in the first trial, guilty in the second, and innocent in the third. Byeon said, “If the Supreme Court ruled me guilty, I would have killed myself.” He filed a claim for damages, but the court dismissed it. Later, he commented on the ruling that innocence is enough so what else the government can do for me.

Daniel Chong, 25, a Korean American engineering student at the University of California San Diego who was swept up by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in April last year, recently received 4.1 million dollars in compensation. Though Chong was innocent, he was imprisoned in a solitary confinement for four days because of the prison officer’s mistake. Even one year has passed since the release, he is said to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The state compensates 1.02 million dollars per day in prison. Is the price for false imprisonment different from country to country depending on a country’s wealth and human rights awareness? Korea and the U.S. have such a wide gap in false detention or imprisonment.

Editorial Writer Choi Young-hae (yhchoi65@donga.com)