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Defamation Trial Begins for Ex-South Korean President

Former South Korean dictator Chun Doo-hwan (C) wearing a face mask arrives at a court for his trial in Gwangju, April 27, 2020.

Chun Doo-hwan, South Korea’s former authoritarian president, went on trial Monday for charges of slandering a late activist priest who gave an eyewitness account of a deadly military attack on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1980.

The 89-year-old ex-president called the late Father Cho Chul-hyun “Satan in a mask” in his 2017 memoir, in response to allegations by Father Cho that he saw military helicopters firing on protesters in the city of Gwangju. More than 200 people were killed and about 1,800 others wounded, according to official figures.

If Chun is convicted, he could face up to two years in prison or at least $4,000 in fines.

Chun seized power in a military coup in 1979 after the assassination of President Park Chung-hee and ruled South Korea with an iron fist until he stepped down in 1988 in the face of mass demonstrations.

He was convicted of treason in 1996 and sentenced to death, but South Korea’s highest court reduced the sentence to life imprisonment, and he was released the following year after being granted a presidential pardon.