A South Korean court has handed former President Chun Doo-hwan an eight-month suspended jail sentence after finding him guilty of defaming a former democracy activist who was involved in protests against his government in the 1980s.
Monday’s sentence was suspended for two years, meaning the 89-year-old former president is unlikely to spend any time in prison, the court ruling seen by Reuters news agency showed.
The trial was held in the southwestern city of Gwangju, where hundreds, possibly thousands, were believed to have been killed when locals rose up against Chun’s authoritarian government on May 18, 1980, and were crushed by police, paratroopers and tanks.
The ruling said Chun defamed Catholic priest and activist Cho Chul-hyun, also known as Cho Bi-oh, in his 2017 memoirs when he called Cho a “despicable liar” for testifying that government helicopters had fired on civilians.
Cho died in 2016, but South Korea’s strict defamation laws meant Chun still faced up to two years in prison and up to five million won ($4,500) in fines.
The court said it found the reports of government helicopters firing on civilians to be reliable.
Chun, a general who seized power in a 1979 coup, was president until mass demonstrations led to his resignation in 1988.
In 1995, he was accused of mutiny, treason and bribery, but he refused to appear at the prosecutors’ office and instead travelled to his hometown.
Then-President Kim Young-sam ordered his arrest and Chun was detained on December 3, 1995. He was found guilty of mutiny, treason and corruption in August 1996.
He was originally sentenced to death but was released in 1997 – after spending just over two years at the Anyang Correctional Institution near Seoul – in an effort by Kim to promote “national harmony”.