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S. Korean student demonstrators sentenced to prison

Clash

October 29, 1996
Web posted at: 1:00 p.m. EST (1800 GMT)

In this story:

From Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Fifty-one South Korean students received prison sentences of up to three years on Tuesday for their role in violent week-long pro-North Korean campus demonstrations in August. Another 59 students received suspended sentences following the unrest during a banned reunification rally at Yonsei University in Seoul.

The sentences are part of a harsh crackdown on South Korea's student movement, which backed President Kim Young Sam's rise to power but which Kim has now branded a "terrorist" threat to national security.

Authorities, who say the movement has been taken over by agents acting on behalf of North Korea, have produced stacks of North Korean propaganda they said was seized from the students.

Harsh sentences

South Korea map

The students receiving jail terms were sentenced to serve between eight months and three years for taking part in an illegal protest, engaging in acts of violence and obstructing officials in their duty.

The others were handed suspended jail sentences of between one year and 1 1/2 years, meaning they won't have to spend times behind bars if they stay out of trouble.

While the prosecution had asked for prison terms of up to six years, the ruling was considered harsher than expected. Defense attorneys had called for suspended sentences, saying the students had shown repentance for their roles in the violent demonstrations.

"We cannot glorify contraventions of law and order in the name of unification," Presiding Judge Min Hyong-ki told the court.

Police stormed campus

About 7,000 students had gathered at the university for the reunification rally. After a week's standoff, thousands of police, backed by helicopters spraying tear gas, stormed classroom buildings where the students were holed up.

Police

One police officer was killed and more than 1,000 police officers and students were injured during the confrontations.

Altogether, more than 5,500 students were taken into custody and more than 400 were charged. Those not sentenced on Tuesday are expected to hear court rulings later in the year.

On Monday police arrested the leader of the radical student group, Hanchongryon, which led the Yonsei demonstrations. Park Byoung-un, 23, was held along with 23 others.

North Korea has denounced the action against the student demonstrators.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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