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Farmers win landmark suit against government over long-lost land

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Published : 2014-02-20 21:16
Updated : 2014-02-20 23:22

In a landmark ruling, a Seoul court ordered the government to compensate a group of farmers who were forced to give up their land during former President Park Chung-hee’s dictatorial rule, officials said Thursday.

The Seoul High Court ruled on Feb. 11 in favor of the 291 farmers, awarding 65 billion won ($60 million) in compensation based on the land’s value in 1988.

Including the 5 percent annual interest tallied at about 45 billion won, the total compensation is estimated to surpass 110 billion won, the highest sum for a suit against the state in history.

The court decision ended the plaintiffs’ prolonged fight to regain their long-lost property that the dictatorial regime had appropriated in the name of building an industrial district as part of state-led economic development.

Judge Kang Min-soo said in his ruling that the farmers were stripped of their legal right to reclaim the land due to the 1999 farmland law, but the court decided to honor their rights in consideration of the state’s unlawful method of seizing their land.

According to the verdict, the prosecution and government agencies strongly pressured farmers in the process of securing the land, resorting to irregularities that the court sees as legal grounds for making the state accountable for compensations.

The case dates back to 1961, when strongman Park, father of President Park Geun-hye, ordered the eviction of the farmers and bulldozed their houses in a 1 million-square-meter area in Guro, Seoul, to build an industrial complex.

The farmers filed the suit in 1967, claiming that they had legal rights to the land based on the Farmland Reform Act of 1950, which prohibits the democratic state from forcibly confiscating land without appropriate compensation.

In 1970, the government agencies had asked the farmers to choose between “going to jail or dropping the case,” according to court records. Following such threats, the farmers withdrew their legal action.

The case was revived in July 2008 when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission announced that the state used its power to pressure farmers to withdraw their lawsuits, which prompted the claimants to file the suit again.

The court nullified the farmers’ previous withdrawal and decided to continue the trial without holding a retrial.

By Suk Gee-hyun (monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)

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