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(2nd LD) Ex-President Chun attends libel trial after 2 no-shows but leaves court after 25 minutes

All News 17:02 August 09, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 7-9, 16-18)

SEOUL/GWANGJU, Aug. 9 (Yonhap) -- Former President Chun Doo-hwan attended an appellate court hearing on a defamation case in the southwestern city of Gwangju on Monday after having failed to show up twice.

But the hearing, which began at the Gwangju District Court's appellate division around 2 p.m., ended after only 25 minutes, as the 90-year-old former president complained of breathing difficulties.

Chun, who served as president from 1980-1988, departed from his home in western Seoul at 8:25 a.m. before arriving in Gwangju, about 330 kilometers to the south, at 12:43 p.m.

Former President Chun Doo-hwan (C) leaves the Gwangju District Court in the southwestern city of Gwangju on Aug. 9, 2021, after attending an appellate court hearing on a defamation case. (Yonhap)

He came out of his house in a gray suit, accompanied by his wife, Lee Sun-ja, and waved once toward people standing outside before getting into a car. The former president was asked by reporters if he intends to apologize to his victims but did not respond.

Chun, supported by his bodyguards, was asked similar questions in Gwangju before entering the court but declined to answer.

While inside, Chun answered his identity verification question with the help of his wife and was seen dozing off.

Chun wore a hearing aid but did not understand many questions during the trial.

He clearly stated his name and year of birth but answered most other questions, including his date of birth and address, with his wife's help. When asked about his occupation, he said,"I don't have a job at the moment."

Lee told the court through Chun's bodyguards that he was not able to eat and seemed to be having chest pain.

Chun has been absent from two previous appellate court hearings, held in May and June, to deal with his defamation case related to a late Catholic priest's testimony about the military's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Gwangju in 1980.

Chun's side previously argued that an appellate trial can proceed in the absence of a defendant but has changed its attitude after the court warned about possible disadvantages.

Last November, the Gwangju District Court sentenced Chun to eight months in prison, suspended for two years, for defaming the late Catholic priest Cho Pius, who testified to having witnessed Chun's troops shooting from helicopters at Gwangju's pro-democracy demonstrators. Chun was indicted in May 2018 on defamation charges after denouncing Cho as a "shameless liar" in his controversial memoirs published in 2017.

Chun appealed but failed to show up to the first and second appellate trials held May 10 and June 14, respectively.

A group of civic activists holds a news conference in front of the Gwangju District Court in Gwangju, southwestern South Korea, on Aug. 9, 2021, to call for due punishment for former President Chun Doo-hwan, who is indicted in a defamation case. (Yonhap)

During his district court trial, the former president had shown up in the courtroom three times -- March 11, 2019 and April 27 and Nov. 30, both of last year.

As Chun arrived in Gwangju, a group of civic activists held a news conference in front of the court's entrance to denounce his attitude as "unfaithful" and ask the court to give him a "stern and swift" verdict.

"Chun must show a sincere attitude. The court should no longer guarantee his right to defend excessively," the activists said in the meeting.

Riot and traffic police were deployed around the court, and there was little disturbance.

The next court hearing for Chun is slated for 2 p.m. on Aug. 30.

The former Army general seized power in a 1979 coup, and his troops ruthlessly cracked down on the nine-day uprising that started on May 18, 1980, leaving more than 200 dead and 1,800 others wounded, according to conservative official data.

Chun received a death sentence in 1996 for treason and bribery but was released in December 1997 on a presidential pardon.


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