Capital punishment in South Korea

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Capital punishment is a legal form of punishment in South Korea. The latest death sentence was handed down to Kang Ho-sun in 2009.[1] Presently, however, there is a moratorium in effect on executions by the state.[2] The last execution took place in December 1997. As of 2013, there are at least sixty people in South Korea under a death sentence [3]

On February 19, 2016, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence passed on a man known by his surname 'Lim', a 24 year old conscripted Army sergeant who killed five fellow soldiers and injured seven others in a shooting rampage near the border with North Korea in 2014. He became the 61st person on death row in South Korea. According to Yonhap, of the 61 people on death row, four, including Lim, are soldiers.[4][5]


Executions in Korea have existed since the Joseon Period. The purpose of executions was to cause reactions and stop crimes. Methods of executions included slow slicing, hanging, and dismemberment. Heads of executed people have always been used as warnings to others. Specifically, dismembered heads were displayed to the public both to serve as public warning and enforce military courtesy. However, bodies of executed people were allowed funeral proceedings.[6]

In contemporary history, the first execution law was established on March 25, 1895 by the Supreme Court of Judicature of Japan acting under the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. The first death sentence was given 4 days later, on March 29, 1895 to Jeon Bongjun. Since 1948, a total of 902 people have been executed.[7]

Currently, the Penal Code of South Korea regulates executions as a form of punishment for some crimes according to the Criminal Law section 41. Those crimes include: Rebellion (Section 87), Conspiracy with foreign countries (Section 92), homicide (Section 250), robbery-homicide (Section 338), and other 12 sections. People under 18 cannot be executed according to Juvenile Law (Section 59, Juvenile Law).[7]


In February 1998, then-president Kim Dae-jung enacted a moratorium on executions. This moratorium is still in effect as of 2013.[2] Thus, executions in Korea are considered to be abolished de facto [8] The last executions took place in December 1997, when 23 people were put to death.[9] However, there are still at least 60 people with a death sentence, as of 2013 [3]

In 2010, the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled that capital punishment did not violate “human dignity and worth” in the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. In a five to four decision, capital punishment was upheld as constitutional. Institutions such as Amnesty International considered this a ‘major setback for South Korea.’ [8] Later in 2010, the Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam alluded to a possibility of resuming executions [10] In 2013, three bills which proposed an abolishment of the death penalty lapsed at the end of the National Assembly’s term.[3]

Executions are still a matter of debate.[9] People have called for executions for violent crimes, especially those involving rape of minors.[11]

Notable cases

Kang Ho-sun was convicted of kidnapping and killing eight women between 2006 and 2008, and of burning to death his wife and mother-in-law in 2005. Kang, 38, was arrested in January over the murder of a female college student, and later confessed to killing and secretly burying seven other women.[12] Other death row inmates include Yoo Young-chul and members of the Chijon family, a former gang of cannibals.

In March 2010, in contrast of prior speculations, South Korea's Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam hinted that the executions of death row inmates will continue, breaking the virtual 13-year moratorium.[13] The remarks came few days after Kim Kil-tae, who raped and murdered a 15-year-old schoolgirl, was convicted.

In December 2010, the death sentence of Kil-tae was reduced to life imprisonment and the prosecutors would not plead to the Supreme Court.[14]


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  2. 2.0 2.1 Bright, Arthur. "India uses death penalty: 5 other places where it's legal but rare". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved October 21, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  11. Woo, Jaeyeon (September 6, 2012). "Hideous Crimes Spark Debate on Death Penalty". Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Retrieved October 23, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Korean killer gets death penalty". BBC News. 2009-04-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  14. Bae, Hyun-jung (2010-12-15). "Rapist-murderer's sentence reduced to life imprisonment". The Korean Herald English Edition. Retrieved 2014-10-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>