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Korean Supreme Court convicts female Buddhist monk
by By Ser Myo-ja, JoongAng Daily, April 24, 2009
Venerable Jiyul’s last appeal in the Cheonseong tunnel case falls short
Seoul, South Korea -- A female Buddhist monk was convicted by Korea’s highest court yesterday of obstructing a government bullet train project during a long-running protest against construction of a tunnel near her temple, capping one of the most famous environmental controversies of the country.
<< Jiyul Sunim, pictured above during her hunger strike, has been convicted of "obstructing state business" in her "long-running protest against construction of a tunnel near her temple"
The Supreme Court yesterday convicted Venerable Jiyul of obstructing state business. The 52-year-old monk is a member of the Jogye Order, the country’s largest Buddhist sect.
The court handed her a six-month suspended sentence and placed her on two years’ probation.
Venerable Jiyul is known for her six-year protest against the government’s plan to build a tunnel through Mount Cheonseong as a part of the Gyeongbu bullet train line. Her monastery, Naewon Temple, is located on the mountain in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang.
“Although she obstructed construction to prevent environmental destruction, her protest methods - such as physically blocking an excavator at the site - were not reasonable,” the court said. “The contractor had been granted a court injunction against her protest while her request for an injunction to stop the construction was rejected, but she continued to obstruct the construction, continuing her illegitimate action.”
After the government announced the plan to build a 13.28-kilometer (8.25-mile) tunnel through Mount Cheonseong for the bullet train network connecting Seoul and Busan, Venerable Jiyul started a series of protests, often involving creative methods.
In 2003, she undertook a 50-kilometer-long, three-steps-one-bow pilgrimage from the Busan train station to the mountain, capturing media attention. She also fasted a number of times in protest against the construction. In 2005, she fasted for about 120 days and was hospitalized with serious complications.
After fierce protests by the Buddhist monk and environmentalists, the Roh Moo-hyun administration reassessed the tunnel project, but resumed the work in 2003. Venerable Jiyul staged 24 protests at the construction site.
Prosecutors indicted her in October 2004 on charges of obstructing state business.
In 2006, the Ulsan District Court found Venerable Jiyul guilty of the charges in absentia as she repeatedly refused to appear in court. A six-month suspended jail term was handed her at the time. The court said her responsibility for obstructing the state project was serious, but did not jail her immediately, taking into account her nonviolence, lack of a previous criminal record and deteriorating health.
She appealed the ruling and made her first court appearance in January 2007 for her trial. The appeals high court upheld the initial verdict. She then appealed to the Supreme Court.
In addition to her protests at the construction site, Venerable Jiyul also participated in the high-profile class- action suit against the Korea Rail Network Authority, filed in 2003 to protect the clawed salamanders inhabiting the mountain. Saying the salamanders were a rare species living in the area, Venerable Jiyul and environmentalists demanded that the tunnel project be scrapped.
In 2006, the Supreme Court denied the environmentalists’ request to bar construction, ending the two years and eight months of controversy that became known as the “salamander class-action suit.” After three delays, work resumed at the mountain as environmentalists and the government agreed to a joint survey of environmental impact. The delays cost the builder 14.5 billion won ($10.8 million). The tunnel is scheduled to be completed in 2010.