Seoul, South Korea, May 21, 2009 / 18:45 pm America/Denver (CNA).
A letter from Pope John Paul II asking for clemency helped save the life of a future South Korean president who was sentenced to death by a military tribunal in 1980, new information reveals.
Then-President Chun Doo-hwan had accused Thomas More Kim Dae-jung of inciting the pro-democracy Gwangju People’s Uprising on May 18, 1980, UCA News reports. The uprising was crushed by the military, resulting in an official toll of 191 dead and 852 injured. However, more than 1,000 may have actually died in the clashes.
When Kim was sentenced to death on December 4, 1980, Pope John Paul II wrote to President Chun a week later seeking clemency.
Chun replied to the Pope on January 5, 1981, claiming that Kim had not been charged because of political issues but had committed “an anti-national crime including subversion.”
However, President Chun acknowledged the Pope’s appeal for clemency was “based on humanitarian consideration and compassion.”
Kim’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on January 23, 1981. In response, Pope John Paul II sent a February 1981 letter to President Chun saying “you courteously acknowledged the appeal I made on purely humanitarian grounds for an act of clemency in favor of Kim whose death sentence has recently been commuted."