SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s most notorious rapist was released on Saturday after 12 years in prison, sparking angry demonstrations and anonymous death threats that led to increased police presence in front of the predator’s home.
On Saturday, protesters gathered outside a prison in southern Seoul shouting, “Send him to hell!” And “Castrate him!” When rapist Cho Doo-soon was released.
Mr. Cho was arrested in 2008 and later convicted of raping an 8-year-old girl. His name has since been synonymous with soft-gloved treatment of sex offenders who are said to be tried in the country’s courts.
When Mr. Cho, now 68, was released at dawn on Saturday, people were still angry.
“What kind of country is this to protect such a rapist?” yelled protesters as Mr. Cho was evicted in a gray government van under heavy police protection.
Some protesters lay on the sidewalk holding signs and shouting slogans to prevent Mr. Cho from leaving. Police removed them and built barricades so that the van with Mr. Cho could pass. Protesters kicked the van and threw eggs and insults at the vehicle. Anonymous death notices were posted online against Mr. Cho, forcing the authorities to put more police officers and surveillance cameras in his home.
Public anger has increased in recent months as the date of Mr. Cho’s release approached. Last Wednesday, the National Assembly passed a law nicknamed the “Cho Doo-soon Law,” which banned persons convicted of sexually assaulting minors from having to go to and from school at night or during the hours when students commute to and from school. leaving their homes. The law also prohibits such sex offenders from going anywhere near schools.
South Korean courts have long been accused of indulgence in punishing white-collar criminals and sex offenders.
In April, a 24-year-old man named Son Jong-woo was released from prison after serving an 18-month sentence for running one of the world’s largest child pornography websites. In July, a local court denied the US Department of Justice’s motion for extradition on money laundering and other charges in a US court.
Suffragettes said the judiciary’s inability to adequately punish sex offenders has led to sexual abuse spreading across the country.
But sex crimes have also drawn more attention in recent years, linked to the country’s growing #MeToo movement, and the government has commended tougher penalties. Last month, a 25-year-old man named Cho Joo-bin was sentenced to 40 years in prison for blackmailing young women, including eight minors, into making sexually explicit videos, which he sold through encrypted online chat rooms.
Cho Doo-soon, who is not related to Cho Joo-bin, was drunk when he kidnapped a first grader on her way to school and raped her in a church toilet in 2008. His drunkenness, age and “weak mental state” were cited as mitigating factors when the court sentenced him to 12 years in prison. The public prosecutors in South Korea, who can appeal for stricter sentences after the conviction, decided against it.
The impending release of Mr. Cho from prison caught the attention of many South Koreans and the local news media for weeks. The Justice Department did not disclose what prison Mr. Cho would be released from on Saturday or at what time. But hundreds of protesters and journalists found out and gathered outside the Seoul prison from which he was released, at the Department of Justice facility in Ansan, south of Seoul, where Mr. Cho was making a brief stopover, and at a house in Ansan, in which he wanted to live with his wife.
Ansan residents have protested his return home, saying they do not feel safe with him in their neighborhood.
The police promised around the clock surveillance. When Mr. Cho left the prison on Saturday, he was seen with an electronic ankle monitor and had to wear it for seven years. His whereabouts and photo will be available on a government website for registered sex offenders.
The police also installed a surveillance system in his home and will make random visits to check on him. They also added 35 surveillance cameras, brighter street lights and police booths in Mr. Cho’s neighborhood to monitor his movements and deter people who threatened to attack him. Policemen specially trained in martial arts will patrol his neighborhood.
Mr. Cho, who wore a hat and mask, did not respond to questions asked by reporters on Saturday. But Ko Jeong-dae, an official from the Justice Department assigned to supervise Mr. Cho during his post-prison life, said Mr. Cho was surprised by the anger directed at him.
“While we were driving in the car, he told me he wasn’t expecting it,” Mr. Ko told reporters in a briefing. “He said he committed an unforgivable atrocity and would live in remorse for the rest of his life.”