Photo: George E. Ogle as he was being expelled from Korea, c.1974. Credit: Website of Korea Democracy Foundation.
On November 15, Reverend Dr. George E. Ogle, a Methodist pastor who came to South Korea as a 25-year-old missionary in 1954, passed away in Colorado at age 91. Settling initially in Incheon 인천, Ogle advocated for factory workers’ labor rights through his ministry.
In April 1974, the Park Chung-hee 박정희 dictatorship executed eight democracy activists based on trumped-up charges of communist espionage, in an event later dubbed the People’s Revolutionary Party Incident 인민혁명당 사건. The activists made false confessions under severe torture, and were executed only 18 hours after the court sentenced them to death, in a case often referred to in Korea as a “judicial murder” 사법살인. Ogle, along with American Catholic priest and missionary Father James Sinnott, successfully worked to raise international awareness of the incident, inspiring 35 prominent US leaders (including Edwin O. Reischauer, former US ambassador to Japan) to issue a statement denouncing the Park dictatorship and demanding the US to limit foreign aid to South Korea and attracting coverage from the New York Times. In retaliation, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency 중앙정보부 arrested and interrogated Ogle, falsely accusing him of communist sympathies. In December 1974, he was expelled from Korea, along with Father Sinnott.
Ogle made his first return visit to Seoul in 1989, after South Korea transitioned to democracy in 1987. He wrote two books, The Center for Miracle and How Long O Lord: the Story of Korea in the 20th Century 기다림은 언제까지 오 주여: 20세기 한국의 이야기, describing his experience in Korea’s democracy movement. In June 2020, the Moon Jae-in 문재인 administration awarded Ogle with the newly established Medal for Merits in Advancing Democracy 민주주의 발전 유공 훈장.