[Newsmaker] US missionaries speak out against controversial Gwangju Uprising comments

By Kim Bo-gyung
  • Published : Feb 22, 2019 - 17:56
  • Updated : Feb 22, 2019 - 17:59

US missionaries who lived in Gwangju through the May 18 Democratization Movement in 1980 sent a letter to National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang on Friday, referring to controversial remarks from far-right figures as “blatantly false.”

“It was not an organized movement -- it was an illicit assault upon our city of 800,000 people by military forces under the control of Chun Doo-Hwan. … Believe us, we know what happened in Gwangju -- we were eye-witnesses, and we recorded what we saw and experienced,” missionaries Martha Huntley and Barbara Peterson said in a joint email.

They also urged that the three lawmakers -- far-right Rep. Kim Jin-tae, Rep. Lee Jong-myeong and Rep. Kim Soon-rye of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party -- have their parliamentary seats taken away.

Earlier this month, controversial conservative commentator Jee Man-won was invited to speak at a public hearing on May 18 fact-finding, organized by Rep. Kim Jin-tae and Rep. Lee Jong-myeong.

At the hearing, Jee repeated his controversial claim that the Gwangju movement was the work of North Korean soldiers, denying it was a democratization movement.

“What these three lawmakers said was false, and very hurtful to the people of Gwangju and the Chullas (the Jeolla provinces), and to the nation of South Korea as well. … We would hope these three lawmakers will be rebuked if not removed, so that people can trust the National Assembly of Korea,” the email said, likening the statements to denials of the Holocaust. 

Missionaries Barbara Peterson (second from left) and Martha Huntley (third from left) attend a ceremony held to commemorate the May 18 Democratization Movement in Gwangju in 2018. (Yonhap)

The Presbyterian and Baptist missionaries lived in South Korea with their families between 1965 and 1991, and in Gwangju from 1969 to 1985.

They worked at facilities including the Gwangju Christian Hospital, the Honam Seminary, a Catholic seminary and Chosun University.

In response to the email, Speaker Moon conveyed his gratitude to the two missionaries for standing up for the truth.

To root out false information about the 1980 pro-democracy movement, three parties -- the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, the minor Liberal Party for Democracy and Peace and the minor progressive Justice Party -- proposed a revision of the special law.

The proposal aims to punish those who fabricate, distort and deny facts about the May 18 movement at debates and rallies with up to seven years of jail time or fines of as much as 70 million won.

To protect freedom of expression, the punishment does not apply to the arts, academic research or media reports.

Meanwhile, Jee and the controversial lawmakers of the Liberty Korea Party are to undergo police investigation in connection with defamation complaints filed by civic groups and political parties. 

By Kim Bo-gyung (