Gwangju (AsiaNews) - The judges of Gwangju District Court have sentenced Lee Joon-seok, the captain of the Sewol ferry that sank last April off the island of Cheju to 36 years in prison for "gross negligence". Hundreds of people died in the disaster, mostly high school students on a field trip, but the authorities have dismissed the charge of manslaughter (and therefore the death penalty) put forward by the prosecution. The other 14 crew members on trial were also sentenced to prison: the chief engineer of the ship will spend the next 30 years in jail, the others received sentences of up to 20 years each.
During the trial eye witness accounts were heard and original footage of the disaster shown. In some of these, we see Captain Lee (just over 70 years) abandon the ship as it starts to sink. Some survivors have also accused him of deliberately asking passengers to "stay in their place" without even raising the alarm.
There were 476 people on board
Sewol. Of these, 304
died. Nine corpses are still
missing, but the government has suspended
the search in the vicinity of the
wreck. The disaster has sparked the
anger and sorrow of the entire
population. In addition, the fact
that the government has not yet given
rise to an investigation into the causes that led to the sinking has led to a
series of controversies that have plunged the approval ratings of the
President Park Geun-hye.
The tragedy was widely reported during the pastoral visit of Pope Francis to Korea, which took place August 14 to 18 last. The pontiff stopped several times to speak with groups of family members of the dead students - who are asking the government for "truth and justice" - and he wore the symbolic yellow ribbon brooch on his white skullcap, as a reminder of the young people who lost their lives at sea . The Pope also baptized the father of one of the victims, Mr. Lee Ho-jin, who has chosen to call himself Francis.