04/28/2015, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Sewol verdict overturned: life imprisonment for captain of ferry that killed 300 people

After criticism from families of the victims, the courts recognize the charge of manslaughter. The first officer will have to serve 12 years in prison, the second 7. Three crew members cleared of more serious charges, instead charged with "negligence".

Gwangju (AsiaNews) - The Gwangju city High Court has annulled the sentences handed down in first instance against the crew of the Sewol ferry, which sank April 16, 2014.  The judges have instead ordered the captain to life imprisonment for manslaughter.

The defense had managed to dismiss this charge from the first trial, sparking the ire of the families of the 304 victims who died during the disaster. The other 14 defendants received sentences ranging from 18 months to 12 years in prison: three of them were acquitted of the  most serious charges and received a light sentence for "negligence".

Captain Lee Joon-seok, 70, was sentenced in November 2014 to 36 years in prison in the first degree for neglect and abandonment of the ship, but acquitted of murder. The verdict was criticized as too lenient by the relatives of the victims, who had called for an "immediate" review of the case. The appeal has resulted in a 12 year prison sentence for the first officer and seven for the second. The chief engineer, identified as "Park", will have to serve 10 years.

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. On the occasion of the first anniversary of the sinking, the archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, called the incident "a tragedy that destroyed our most important values."

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.

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