Remembering Kim Geun-tae, Ten Years Later

The democracy activist was known for his courageous testimony of the gruesome torture he received at the hands of the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship.

Remembering Kim Geun-tae, Ten Years Later

Photo: Kim Geun-tae.  Credit: Korea Democracy Foundation.

Former Assembly Member and Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Geun-tae 김근태 전 국회의원 및 보건복지부 장관 passed away on December 30, 2011. During and after his time at the Seoul National University 국립 서울대학교, Kim was one of the most renowned democracy activists against the Park Chung-hee 박정희 and Chun Doo-hwan 전두환 dictatorship.

Kim is particularly known for his groundbreaking court testimony in 1985, when he detailed the gruesome torture inflicted upon him. For 22 days, he was beaten, electrocuted and waterboarded for five hours a day: “At first the electrocution was low and short, then gradually became long and intense. I saw the shadow of death as the electrocution intensity alternated. I held on by reciting to myself, I wished to die on my feet rather than to live on my knees.”

Because of his ordeal, which was later made into the movie National Security 남영동 1985 in 2012, Kim could not receive dental treatment for the rest of his life because the sound of the dental drill while lying down gave him PTSD. In 1988, he won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award along with his wife In Jae-geun 인재근, who lobbied for her husband in the United States.

Kim later became a three-term legislator from 1996 to 2008, during which he was in the National Assembly 국회 along with conservative lawmaker Jeong Hyeong-geun 정형근, the former prosecutor who directed the torture program during the Chun dictatorship. In 2011, Kim passed away from the Parkinson’s Disease that probably developed as a result of his torture.

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