The Korea Herald


Stabbing rampages push S. Korea to seek life sentence without parole

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Aug. 4, 2023 - 15:19

    • Link copied

Police officers are stationed at Seohyeon Station in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, Friday, a day after a man launched an attack that injured 14 people. (Yonhap) Police officers are stationed at Seohyeon Station in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, Friday, a day after a man launched an attack that injured 14 people. (Yonhap)

The South Korean government said Friday that it will take steps to introduce life sentence without parole as punishment for violent crimes, in response to a series of deadly and seemingly random attacks that have occurred in the past weeks.

The announcement came a day after a 22-year-old man injured 14 in what appeared to be a random attack against pedestrians at Seohyeon Station in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province. The culprit -- who showed signs of paranoia -- gave no clear motive to police, fueling concerns sparked by earlier stabbing rampages that have taken place in Greater Seoul.

The Ministry of Justice said in a statement that life sentence without parole was a necessary countermeasure to such violent crimes, and it will be pursued regardless of a pending decision by the Constitutional Court on abolishing death penalty.

Rep. Park Dae-chul of the ruling People Power Party, who chairs the parliamentary policy committee, posted on his Facebook page earlier Friday that his party and the government recently met and had agreed that a stronger form of punishment is necessary to prevent acts of societal terrorism. The meeting was held in response to a stabbing at Sillim Station in southern Seoul on July 21, which left one dead and three injured.

"The everyday lives of the people are more important than criminals' human rights," Park wrote. He said the government and the party will survey public opinion on the issue, while consulting experts in the field in pushing for the new form of punishment.

The ruling party also suggested the permanent stationing of police officers in crowded areas, and requested that the government analyze foot traffic at such areas across the country.

Korea's criminal law states that those sentenced to life in prison can be released on parole after 20 years of incarceration. Punishments for murder range from five years in prison to death.

In order to keep those sentenced to a life behind bars from being released, local courts have been handing out capital punishments as de facto life prison without parole. South Korea is considered to be abolitionist in practice in terms of the death penalty, not having executed anyone since 1997.

But this has sparked complications and legal issues, since the death penalty and life imprisonment are different forms of punishment. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled against using the death penalty as a life sentence without parole.

This marks the first time the Supreme Court has spoken on its legality. The precedent could hinder the practice of using death penalty in the manner that has persisted for years.

While it is unclear how effective the new measure would be in curbing random stabbings, the series of deadly attacks without any clear motive or target have been terrorizing people across the nation.

At around 10 a.m. Friday, a man thought to be in his 20s or 30s stabbed a high school teacher in Daejeon and fled the scene. The unidentified culprit is still at large, and the victim remains unconscious.

A little later in the day, a man wielding a knife was taken into custody near the Express Bus Terminal in Gangnam, southern Seoul.

Threats of similar crimes were also made on the internet by unidentified individuals, who wrote that they were going to stab 20 men at Seohyeon Station on Friday and place a bomb to assassinate President Yoon Suk Yeol on Saturday.