The Supreme Court handed down a not-guilty ruling in a retrial of Cho Bong-am, pen name Juksan, who was accused of espionage and executed by the Rhee Syngman administration. The verdict comes 52 years after the execution was carried out. In the Progressive Party case that led to his death, Cho was accused of being a communist sympathizer, and of founding a political party through funding and the direction of North Korea. However, these accusations have been shown both historically and legally to have been fabricated by the Rhee administration to eliminate a political rival. It is a welcome sight to see the judiciary setting this mistake right, however belatedly. It also warrants some painful reflection.
Cho’s execution was an act of judicial homicide. As the retrial verdict states, he was an independence fighter as well as a politician who laid the groundwork of the economic system with farmland reforms. He was framed on espionage charges because he stood a strong chance of getting in the way of dictator Rhee’s long-term grip on power.
Those in power did not hesitate to use any means of pressure at their disposal. When the court in the first trial ruled Cho not guilty of espionage, the mob that called itself the Anti-Communist Youth League stormed the Supreme Court and ran riot, while prosecutors arrested or interrogated members of the defense counsel. The judiciary bowed to these intimidation tactics. Even though virtually the only witness to the espionage allegations repeatedly stated in the second trial that his account had been false, the court found Cho guilty of espionage and sentenced him to death.