Poet and democracy activist Kim Ji-ha dies at 81

SEOUL– Kim Ji-ha, a South Korean poet and democracy activist who was imprisoned for being critical of the authoritarian government in the 1970s, died at the age of 81 on Sunday, a source said.

Kim died at his home with his family at his bedside at around 4 p.m. in Wonju, 132 kilometers east of Seoul, after suffering from a disease for about a year, according to the source at the Toji Cultural Foundation.

“His conditions abruptly deteriorated, so we called emergency services, but he just passed away,” the source said.

Born in 1941, he majored in aesthetics at Seoul National University and began his career as a poet in 1969, publishing poems such as “The Yellow Earth.”

He drew attention from the public but also ran afoul with the dictatorial Park Chung-hee government when he published a poem entitled “The Five Bandits” in 1970, which scathingly criticized rich and well-heeled people in a satirical way. He was arrested for penning the work.

In 1974, Kim was sentenced to death for allegedly instigating a group of students in cahoots with North Korea to overthrow the authoritarian government in violation of the National Security Law.

Kim was released 10 months later thanks to international efforts to mitigate his punishment. He was incarcerated again for writing a story about his wrongful imprisonment and served another six years.

In a 2013 retrial requested by Kim, a court delivered a not-guilty verdict, saying there was no evidence he plotted to organize the anti-government organization.

In 1973, he married the daughter of Park Kyung-ree, one of the country’s most renowned novelists. Park is known for her epic novel “The Land,” or “Toji” in Korean. Kim’s second son currently serves as chief of the Toji Cultural Foundation.

Kim’s memorial altar will be set up at Wonju Severance Christian Hospital.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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