South Korean Government Proposes Bill for Life Sentences Without Parole

SEOUL — The South Korean Cabinet has proposed a bill that introduces the option for life sentences without the possibility of parole, a measure stemming from a rise in heinous crimes in the country, including recent stabbing rampages.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the revision to the Criminal Act was approved in a Cabinet meeting and will now be forwarded to the National Assembly for review. The amendment calls for courts to make a distinction between life sentences with the possibility of parole and those without when meting out life imprisonment sentences.

Under the existing Criminal Act, a convict receiving a life sentence is eligible for parole after serving 20 years. The proposed change comes as both the government and the ruling People Power Party have been advocating for the introduction of life sentences without parole. This push is partly in response to high-profile crimes such as the murder of a subway worker at Sindang Station in Seoul last year and two deadly stabbing sprees in and around Seoul earlier this year.

The justice ministry noted that South Korea has not executed anyone since December 1997. The ministry argues that implementing life sentences without parole would ensure that "heinous criminals pay a price corresponding to their crimes and be isolated from society."

However, the proposal has faced opposition, including from the Supreme Court, which in August raised concerns about the potential implications for human dignity and the chance for convicts to reform. The Supreme Court further pointed out that life sentences without parole are generally considered an alternative to the death penalty, suggesting that "introducing the life sentence without parole on top of the death penalty needs a further review."

South Korea is classified internationally as being abolitionist in practice with regards to the death penalty, having not carried out any executions since December 1997.

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