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Panel Sheds Light on 1980 Crackdown on Buddhists

Chosun Ilbo, Oct 27, 2007

Seoul, South Korea -- The Oct. 27 roundup of Buddhist monks in 1980 was a typical case of the military government’s organized suppression of the Buddhists, a Defense Ministry truth commission said Thursday. Military leaders decided to suppress Buddhists led by the Jogye Order because they refused to cooperae with the new putschist regime and the military leaders feared the movement might grow into a pro-democracy group.

<< A Defense Ministry truth commission announces the result of an investigation of the military regime's suppression of Buddhist monks and press control in 1980, at the pressroom of the Defense Ministry on Thursday.

In the incident, the military arrested and investigated 153 monks of the Jogye Order, Korea’s largest Buddhist order, and raided a total of 5,731 temples and hermitages across the country. The military leaders around the time took all kinds of oppressive measures while misleading the public with propaganda that Buddhist temples were hotbeds of corruption and banditry.

The truth commission on Thursday released the result of its investigation of the incident that also revealed that president Chun Doo-hwan had in fact received reports on the incident, despite claims to the contrary.

According to the investigation, the military leaders decided in June 1980 to conduct a full-fledged campaign to suppress the Jogye Order, and worked out a plan to investigate the Buddhist establishment under the pretext of “purifying” it. The government arrested 17 Buddhist monks on Nov. 14 that year and later released an interim report of its investigation announcing that some monks had illegally amassed fortunes amounting to about W20 billion (US$1=W917).

"The Oct. 27 incident was a typical case of the abuse of state powers in which judicial criteria were irrationally applied to a specific religious movement under the pretext of purifying the Buddhist establishment,” the truth commission said. It advised the government to find ways to restore the honor of, and make amends to, the victims.

The Jogye Order's own truth commission on the Oct. 27 incident issued a statement the same day urging the government to pass a special law on restoring the honor of monks. "The act was a crime that disparaged pure-minded monks as shameless crooks and made them the target of public denunciation. It was equal to an act of state-sanctioned murder."

The Defense Ministry truth commission said it confirmed through records that the military leaders in 1980 also mobilized the Defense Security Command against the press. According to the commission, the DSC operated a press control team that investigated the personal preferences and tendencies of senior journalists with the purpose of controlling them. The DSC classified journalists dismissed at the time into several groups, to each of which it applied different criteria to control their jobseeking efforts.

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