(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 6, 10)
GWANGJU, Oct. 5 (Yonhap) -- The prosecution on Monday sought a 1 1/2 year prison term for former President Chun Doo-hwan on charges of defaming an activist priest who documented a bloody crackdown by Chun's troops on pro-democracy demonstrators in Gwangju.
On May 18, 1980, citizens in Gwangju, about 330 kilometers south of Seoul, rose up against the military junta led by Chun. His troops ruthlessly cracked down on the nine-day uprising, leaving more than 200 people dead and 1,800 others wounded, according to official data.
The 89-year-old, who led an authoritarian government from 1980-1988, was indicted in May 2018 for allegedly making slanderous statements toward the late activist priest Cho Pius' eyewitness accounts of the brutal crackdown in his controversial memoir.
In the memoir published in early 2017, Chun refuted earlier claims made by Cho, who had testified to witnessing the military shooting at citizens from helicopters during the Gwangju uprising. Chun has insisted that Cho lied, calling him "Satan wearing a mask."
In the last court arguments at the Gwangju District Court on Monday, which Chun did not attend, citing poor health, the prosecution asked the court to levy a 1 1/2 year prison sentence to Chun for defaming the late priest.
"Scoffing at people who remember the pain of history should not be justified as freedom of expression ... Giving the defendant a jail term would serve as a stepping stone for our society to gain power to not repeat unjust history," the prosecution said.
In a meeting with reporters before attending the final court hearing, Father Cho Young-dae, the plaintiff and also a nephew of the late priest, said the testimony by the late priest made it possible for the country to "take a big step toward the truth" about the May 18 democratic uprising.
On the other side, Jung Ju-gyo, a lawyer for Chun, told reporters that he was confident that the former president will be cleared of the charges "based on evidence that has been garnered so far."
"On the question of whether there were shootings from helicopters, there is only one truth," he said. "I have been working on the trial with my eyes set on finding the truth," he said.
During the final presentation at the court, Jung said, "There was not a single shot fired from the skies of Gwangju. That is the truth," he argued, adding that there was no evidence to support the prosecution's claim that citizens were being shot from helicopters.
Since his indictment in May 2018, Chun has rejected court summons several times, citing health reasons, which include a claim that he suffers from Alzheimer's disease. He appeared in court most recently in April.
The disgraced ex-leader stood in a separate criminal trial on treason and other charges in 1996. The former Army general, who seized power in a 1979 coup, received the death penalty, but the top court reduced the sentence to life imprisonment. He was released in December 1997 on a presidential pardon.
The court is expected to hand down the ruling at the end of the year at the earliest.
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