Korean Gov Park Prosecutors seek two-year prison sentence for organizer of Sewol ferry march of silence over government cover-up

Korean Gov Park Prosecutors seek two-year prison sentence for organizer of Sewol ferry march of silence over government cover-up
Nov.13,2016 11:59 KSTModified on : Nov.13,2016 11:59 KST

25-year-old Yong Hye-in speaks at a citizens’ filibuster in front of the National Assembly in Seoul’s Yeouido neighborhood on Feb. 25, opposing anti-terror legislation. (by Kim Myoung-jin, staff photographer)
Organizer says her life was changed by the Sewol sinking, and she hopes her case will show the country “that it’s not a crime to fight injustice”
On Nov. 2 South Korean prosecutors asked a court to give a two-year prison sentence to Yong Hye-in, who organized a much-discussed march of silence called “Stay Where You Are” after the sinking of the Sewol ferry.
Yong is charged with having allowed protests that she had organized to exceed the scope approved by the authorities (obstruction of traffic) and with having organized a march without first receiving permission from the authorities (violating the Assembly and Demonstration Act). Yong was behind the march of silence for the Sewol, protest demonstrations during a hunger strike by the Sewol victims’ families and several other commemorative demonstrations in 2014.
Yong shared the news about the sentence the prosecutors are seeking on her Facebook page on Nov. 2 along with the final testimony she made at Seoul Central District Court. “During the 1,000 days that have passed since the Sewol Ferry sank in the waters off the coast of Jindo [in South Jeolla Province], many things have happened, and my life has changed a great deal,” Yong said at the beginning of her testimony. Then she asked the judge, the prosecutors and the lawyers in the courtroom whether they remembered the moment that they learned about the Sewol accident on Apr. 16, 2014.

Yong Hye-in participates in a silent demonstration that she initiated with other young people after the Sewol tragedy in April. The signs read, “Stay where you are”.
On the day of the Sewol tragedy, Yong got to school early and was talking with some of her friends. One friend sent her news about the Sewol on her mobile phone. Yong had lived in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province and she had wanted to get into Danwon High School (which many of the students who died in the sinking attended). While she was absorbed in thought about Danwon High School on her way to class, she heard to her relief that all the passengers had been rescued. But to Yong’s dismay, that good news turned out to be completely incorrect.
“I was shocked to learn about the false report, but I stopped worrying when I heard that a massive rescue effort was underway, involving hundreds of divers, hundreds of boats, several helicopters and hundreds of flares. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but even then I assumed that at least a few of the passengers would be rescued and that there would be a moving scene of a tearful reunion with their families in front of media cameras,” Yong said.
“The entire country was plunged into sorrow” by the Sewol tragedy, said Yong, as she continued her testimony. “The media was talking about the Werther Effect and expressing concern about how the tragedy might affect the public. This was also when some people started talking about the blow to consumer sentiment,” Yong said.
“After the tragedy, there were many people who said they were sorry. I thought that this was because they felt responsibility as members of society for having created a society in which 304 people’s lives could be taken from them like that, a society in which people have to suddenly learn that their family members have died,” Yong said.
It was around this time, Yong explained, that she planned the “Stay Where You Are” march of silence out of a desire to create an opportunity to talk to and comfort those who were grieving. Several dozen people came together at Yong’s suggestion and walked together through central Seoul, carrying chrysanthemums tied with yellow ribbons and small pickets that read, “Stay Where You Are.”
During the testimony, Yong also expressed her feelings about the trial, which had lasted for two years: “I’ve had a hard time during the two years of this trial. I was arrested for the first time in my life after the Sewol sinking; I spent two nights in a police station; I was shuttled around by the police and the prosecutors; and I saw my first search warrant.” At the same time, Yong was confident that if someone asked her if she regretted it all, she would say she didn’t. “I want to live as a member of society, as the kind of person who fulfills their responsibilities as a human being,” she said.
“Many South Koreans are infuriated about the recent scandal involving Park Geun-hye and [her confidante and unofficial advisor] Choi Sun-sil. I think they’ve learned over the past two years that resisting injustice and corruption in society is never a crime. I hope that my trial will set a good precedent that it’s not a crime to fight injustice,” Yong told the Hankyoreh in a telephone interview on Nov. 3. Yong’s verdict will be read on Dec. 7.
By Park Soo-jin, staff reporter