Hong Seong-u, 84, Pioneering Civil Rights Attorney

Hong, who resigned from the bench to protest the Park Chung-hee dictatorship, was involved in nearly every major legal case in South Korea's democracy activism.

Hong Seong-u, 84, Pioneering Civil Rights Attorney

Photo: Hong Seong-u.  Credit: Hong Seong-u.

Hong Seong-u 홍성우, the attorney who defended virtually every major legal case in South Korea’s struggle against the military dictatorship, passed away on March 16.

Born in Seoul in 1938, Hong graduated from the Law Faculty of Seoul National University 국립서울대학교 법과대학 and began his legal career as a judge in 1965. Hong resigned from the bench in 1971 in the first Judicial Revolt 제1차 사법파동, when 150 out of South Korea’s 455 judges resigned en masse to protest the Park Chung-hee 박정희 dictatorship’s attempt to arrest the judges who issued a “not guilty” verdict on politically motivated prosecutions.

Hong then began a career as a civil rights attorney in the 1974 case involving the National Alliance of Young Students for Democracy 전국민주청년학생총연맹, in which the Park dictatorship arrested and tortured more than 250 democracy activists based on trumped-up charges of communist association, eventually executing eight in an incident dubbed as “a judicial murder” 사법살인.

Hong went onto serve as a defense counsel in the major legal cases of South Korea’s democracy movement, including Park Chung-hee’s prosecution of Kim Dae-jung 김대중 and Yun Bo-seon 윤보선 in 1974; YH Trading Co. labor union strike in 1979; the torture death of Park Jong-cheol 박종철 in 1987 and the sex torture of Kwon In-suk 권인숙 in 1988. (See previous coverage, “Torture Death that Sparked Democratization.”)

In 1986, Hong Seong-u founded Lawyers for the Carriage of Justice 정의실천법조회, which is known today as Lawyers for a Democratic Society 민주사회를 위한 변호사모임, South Korea’s most prominent civil rights legal organization.

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