Former President Chun Doo-hwan, accused of defaming a late Roman Catholic priest over a military crackdown during the 1980 pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju, did not show up in a Gwangju court Monday for the first day of his trial, saying he has Alzheimer’s and cannot travel as far as Gwangju due to his age.
Prosecutors had indicted Chun in May on libel charges concerning the priest Cho Chul-hyun, who said he had seen the military, led by then-President Chun, firing at civilians from helicopters during the crackdown in Gwangju in 1980.
Chun denied Cho’s claims in his memoir, published last year, calling Cho “Satan wearing a mask” and saying all his statements were lies. A relative of the late priest filed a complaint following the release of the memoir, and prosecutors launched an investigation soon thereafter.
If convicted, Chun could face up to two years in prison or fines of up to 5 million won ($4,488).
The hearing was previously delayed twice at Chun’s request, in May and July.
According to Chun’s lawyer, the ex-President was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease back in 2013.
But Chun has appeared in a number of public engagements from 2013-2017, including the publication of his own memoir last year. He also voted for the 2016 legislative election and the 2017 presidential election.
His lawyer said Chun had been working on the memoir prior to his diagnosis in 2013. The ex-President is currently experiencing partial memory loss and inability to control his emotions, among other symptoms.
Hundreds and possibly thousands are believed to have been killed when Gwangju residents rose up against the military government led by Chun Doo-hwan in May 1980. Photographs and testimony show that the Gwangju protesters were crushed, bludgeoned, stabbed and shot by troops.
The court has asked for Chun‘s attendance at the next hearing, scheduled for Oct. 1.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org