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Ministry denies alleged mistreatment of jailed ex-president

The Justice Ministry on Wednesday denied former President Park Geun-hye’s claim that her rights are being violated at a detention facility where she is being held for corruption charges.

CNN cited a report written by her international legal team from global consultancy MH Group, saying Park is living in a cell that is “dirty, cold and constantly lit so she cannot sleep.”

“Park is being held in a cell of an appropriate size with a heating system, TV, drawer and a flush toilet, among other things,” the Justice Ministry said. “During sleeping hours, we reduce the light to the extent that (inmates’) movement can be observed. Two out of three lights are turned off.”

Park has been detained in a solitary cell at Seoul Detention Center in Uiwang, Gyeonggi Province, since she was arrested on March 31. She is standing trial on charges of bribery and abuse of power in connection with the corruption scandal that removed her from power in March.

The ministry also denied CNN reports that said Park is not receiving proper treatment despite her suffering from a handful of chronic conditions including lower back pain, osteoarthritis in her knee and shoulder joints, chronic fatigue due to adrenal insufficiency, as well as malnutrition at the detention facility.

“We are guaranteeing proper and sufficient medical treatment (for her) by allowing her to receive treatment from in-house medical staff at any time and allowing her to get treatment twice at outside medical facilities,” it said.

Park has been receiving treatment out of prison at Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital. She had not attended her own hearings on three occasions in July, citing pain in her toes.

The detention center also added that she is provided with meals on a regular basis and a chance to exercise on a regular basis, as well as an extra folding mattress, given her back pain.

The allegations raised by MH Group are in stark contrast to public sentiment. The public has criticized the detention center for granting special treatment to the former president, as it was revealed that she had been allowed to stay at a larger cell alone.

Detention center officials did not confirm the exact size of her cell, but her solitary cell is said to be about 6.56 square meters in size. It was a cell used to house six to seven inmates, but was remodeled exclusively for her use. She stayed in an office at the detention facility for two days while her room was being prepared.

For most other inmates, six to seven people are allegedly held in a 12.01-square-meter cell.

Like other cells, Park’s cell comes with a TV, folding mattress, drawer, desk, sink and a flushing toilet, according to the detention facility. Like other inmates, she eats 1,440-won meals with three to four side dishes, and sleeps on a foldable mattress.

Two former presidents, prominent politicians and business tycoons have also been sent to solitary cells to separate them from other inmates and ensure their safety.

Rep. Roh Hoe-chan, floor leader of the minor progressive Justice Party, has raised allegations that Park had received “king-like” treatment early this month, ahead of the court’s decision on whether to extend her detention.

According to the document he obtained from the Justice Ministry, he said that Park had received the privilege to use a 10.08-square-meter room, five times bigger than a cell for ordinary inmates, despite the nation’s correctional facilities housing 20 percent more inmates than allowed due to a lack of space.

“The right to consult with a lawyer is the defendant’s right, but it is hard to imagine meeting with a lawyer once a day for ordinary inmates due to attorney fees,” he said, noting that Park has met with her lawyer more than once a day since she was arrested.

Over her 135-day detention as of Aug. 24, she met with her lawyers 138 times. She had a meeting with detention center officials 24 times and with Lee Kyung-sik, head of the center, 12 times, the document showed.

He said that it shows the reality of “privilege” that those with money and power, unconcerned with lawyer fees, can enjoy.

Whenever such allegations of “special treatment” for Park surfaced, the detention center had said that it had done so out of respect for the former president.

MH Group plans to submit the document on her situation in prison to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday, CNN reported. The OHCHR is set to conduct a routine review on South Korea’s human rights early next month.

With Park’s trial still underway, a Seoul court extended her custody by another six months Friday, citing the possibility of her destroying evidence.

Park called her trial “political revenge in the name of the rule of the law.”

“The past six months have been a terrible and miserable time,” Park said. “It is meaningless to believe that the court will handle the case only in accordance with the Constitution and conscience despite political winds and public pressure.”

Her local lawyers quit en masse in protest, taking issue with the fairness of the trial Monday.

The local defense team is distinct from MH Group, a global legal firm that deals with high-profile international legal and diplomatic cases. It formerly represented Saif Gadhafi, the son of the late Libyan leader.

MH Group called the decision “excessive” and “unduly harsh,” saying Park is ailing and needs proper medical treatment out of custody.

“It is most unfortunate that the court has held that Ms Park must remain in custody when there are no legitimate lawful grounds for depriving her of her liberty while her trial continues,” MH Group said in a statement.

“Under accepted international standards, detention is the exception. It should only be ordered when absolutely necessary as persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

Park stands accused of colluding with her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil to take bribes worth 43.3 billion won ($38.4 million) from large conglomerates, including Samsung Group. Other charges include coercion and leaking government secrets.

By Ock Hyun-ju (