Archive for July 31st, 2009

1959: Cho Pong-am, Presidential runner-up

Add comment July 31st, 2009 Headsman

A half-century ago today, South Korean strongman Syngman Rhee, winner of that country’s 1956 presidential election, had the runner-up hanged for treason.

Cho Pong-am (or Cho Bong-am), who cut his teeth as a young Communist in the 1920’s and 30’s but had become an independent socialist since, won over 2.1 million votes as the Progressive Party candidate in 1956, on a platform of peaceful reunification with North Korea — the outstanding political issue in South Korea at the time.

The position had some popularity as against Rhee’s “march North” policy of conquering North Korea by force. Peaceful unification and support for the Progressive Party continued to grow after 1956, to Rhee’s fury.

Probably in fear of the increase in popular sentiment favourable to ‘peaceful unification’, the Rhee regime was determined to destroy the Progressive Party. On 13 January 1958, Cho Pong-am was arrested, together with other party officials, on charges of espionage and violation of the National Security Act … Given the fact that the government had suspected Cho’s ideological orientation, and that Communist infiltration of the South was increasing at that time … the arrest of the progressive leader might have been caused partly by the government’s genuine fear of Communist subversion. Cho’s trial, however, clearly indicated that the main purpose of Rhee’s action was to suppress political opposition, and especially to control the idea of ‘peaceful unification’.

Cho Pong-am was indicted on charges that his advocacy of ‘peaceful unification’ by elections in North and South Korea denied the sovereignty of the ROK and consequently was subversive in nature, and that he had been in secret contact with North Korean agents. … police and prosecution officials admitted that the espionage case against Cho was ‘very weak’, and indicated that they were expending considerable effort on analysing his concept of ‘peaceful unification’ in order to classify it as a crime against the ROK.

… Seoul district court, in July, sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment … [and] found that the Progressive Party’s platform did not violate the National Security Law. Three months later, however, the appellate court, reversing the decision of the district court, sentenced Cho to death … [and] ruled that his unification formula represented a plan to overthrow the ROK government.

Cho was hanged just one day after the Supreme Court rejected his appeal — “sudden and highly questionable,” to the American embassy that hurriedly attempted to impress Rhee’s Foreign Minister with the damage this execution could do to South Korea internationally. Cognizant, perhaps, of such concerns, Seoul imposed press censorship from August 1 on further reporting about the case.

Rhee himself would be forced from office by popular outcry the following year after attempting to steal the 1960 election, but “the tragic end of Cho Pong-am and his Progressive Party made it unequivocally clear that a serious leftist movement could not be openly promoted in South Korea without falling victim to violent suppression by the Government.” (Source)

Update: He was posthumously rehabilitated in 2011.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Korea,Politicians,Power,South Korea,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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