07/21/2005, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Former torture centre becomes Human Rights Memorial Hall

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young

Seoul (AsiaNews) – By June of next year, a former police station that was used as a torture centre will be turned into a memorial hall to commemorate the victims of human rights violations, South Korea's National Police Agency (NPA) announced. The inauguration of the new facility at the National Security Bureau (NSB) building near Namyong Station in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, will coincide with the agency's 60th anniversary.

"It represents our determination to reflect on our own past wrongdoings and to be reborn as police protecting people's human rights,'' said Hong Young-ki, director general of the Police Administration And Planning Bureau.

"The place will be a memorial for those who died from the abuse of power while involved in pro-democracy activities. It will contain an exhibition room of the nation's human rights history, a class for human rights education, and a counselling centre on human rights abuse," Hong said.

The NSB offices and the Police Human Rights Protection Centre will move to other locations.

The NSB building was built in 1976 and was used to interrogate North Korean spies. During the country's military dictatorship (1961-1987), it became a symbol of human rights violation.

Many pro-democracy activists in the 1980s were tortured in the building, and sometimes were forced to make false confessions that they were spying for North Korea.

Student activist Park Jong-chul, a Catholic student at Seoul National University, was one of them.

He died as a result of being tortured with water and electricity shocks in 1987.

The Police's official report said Park died accidentally when he fell down hitting a desk in an investigation room. His death triggered a pro-democracy uprising in June that year, which brought about the end of the military dictatorship led by then President Chun Doo-hwan.

Ham Chu-myong, who recently cleared himself of false charges of spying for the communist North, and current Health and Welfare Minister Kim Geun-tae were among those tortured at the building.

Several civic groups, such as Citizens' Solidarity for Human Rights, and individuals including Park's father Park Chong-ki, had planned a campaign to urge police to open the site to the public as a way to reflect on its past misdeeds, but now they have cancelled it.

Some human rights activists thanked NPA Commissioner General Huh Joon-young for the decision.

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