SEOUL – South Korea’s most notorious child rapist was pelted with eggs by an angry crowd who called for him to be castrated when he was released from prison on Saturday (Dec 12) after serving 12 years behind bars.
Some 150 protesters turned up when Cho Doo-soon, 68, arrived at his home in Ansan city, south-west of Seoul, with some 100 police officers dispatched to maintain order and keep him safe.
Residents, activists and YouTubers shouted “execute him”, “castrate him” and “expel him from Ansan” as Cho got out from a car, escorted by parole officers.
Public outrage still runs high against the grey-haired man, who brutally raped and mutilated an 8-year-old girl in 2008 but was given a lighter sentence for having committed the crime under the influence of alcohol – a legitimate defence in South Korea.
Prosecutors had pressed then for him to be given a life sentence. Cho had 17 other criminal convictions since 1972, from extortion to theft, rape and assault.
The public cried foul when the court decided on a 12-year jail term, considering it too lenient for the trauma caused to his young victim.
The 8-year-old girl was walking to school on the morning of Dec 11, 2008, when she was kidnapped by Cho and dragged to a toilet in a nearby church.
He strangled her, beat her until she was unconscious, and then raped her in various ways.
He also tortured her, causing severe damage to her lower organs, and left her to die after trying to drown her in water.
The girl survived the attack, after undergoing surgery for eight hours.
The police quickly arrested Cho, who was found with his victim’s blood on his clothes and shoes.
But he insisted he did not remember anything as he was drunk. He wrote “I am not a sick monster who rapes an 8-year-old girl” 300 times in his defence.
Police called him “a bald-faced liar”.
Public fury erupted when his 12-year jail term was meted out, with many protesting that Korean law was too lenient towards sexual offenders.
Housewife Sarah Kim, 44, recalls “feeling shocked to the core” when she read the news back then.
“My daughter was also 8 years old then and I couldn’t help but think, what if the same thing happened to her?” she told The Sunday Times.
“This country is really no place for women to live, there’s too much gender bias against us. Male sex offenders can get away with a few years in prison, while the female victims have to suffer for the rest of their life. Just the thought of it makes me angry.”
The case created such a furor that it was adapted into an award-winning movie named Hope, which drew 2.67 million viewers in 2013.
Activists refused to back down, filing thousands of petitions over the years calling for the relevant laws to change.
Cho’s name was cited over 6,800 times in petitions registered with the presidential Blue House website, many of them opposing his release, calling for a retrial, and urging tougher punishment for crimes similar to his.
A Dec 2017 petition arguing against admitting Cho back to society drew over 600,000 signatures.
As the day of his release approached, people took to social media to protest, some praying for him to die, while others circulated messages on “how to stab Cho where it hurts if you run into him”.
Jitters are most felt in Ansan city, home to 740,000 people, including Cho’s wife and the victim’s family.
Cho’s wife, who had openly defended him saying he was a polite person who did all the household work and never vented his anger, reportedly moved house last month due to excessive media attention and neighbour complaints. But the new apartment is just 1km away from the old house.
The victim’s family is said to be moving to a different part of the city.
The victim’s father had said in previous media interviews they could not move away as his daughter, now 20, was used to depending on her friends, classmates and teachers.
He also revealed that his daughter has to wear diapers at home as she is no longer able to control her bowels properly due to organ damage suffered during the rape.
He added that the family can only watch children’s cartoons at home together as his daughter would collapse upon hearing anything about sex crimes.
“How can Cho Doo-soon come back to Ansan, where his victim lives?” the father told Chosun Ilbo newspaper in September.
“I feel he is trying to retaliate by moving back.”
Some experts say Cho should be given a second chance, now that he has been duly punished.
Cho, who was unemployed at the time of the 2008 attack, apparently voiced hopes of selling coffee on a mountain after his release.
However, criminal psychology researchers at Kyonggi University warned that there is a 76 per cent chance he may commit another crime, noting that he has issues with alcohol and anger management.
Police said they will monitor Cho round the clock, with officers skilled in martial arts dispatched to patrol the area around his house.
At least 15 new CCTV cameras have been installed in the neighbourhood, and street lamps made brighter.
Cho will also have to wear an electronic monitoring device for seven years, as required by law.
A Bill was also passed last week to ban sex offenders of minors from going near schools and leaving their homes at night and during hours when students commute to and from school.
Ansan city officials are also trying to bar Cho from buying alcohol, impose a curfew on him, and prevent him from going near children’s facilities.
But fear of the man still remains, especially after reports emerged that he did 1,000 pushups an hour while in prison – apparently to protect himself against any attack from the public. The Justice Ministry, however, has rubbished the report, saying it was based on a one-sided claim of a former fellow inmate.
A Twitter user wrote: “I’m a student from Ansan… students like me and my friends are very anxious. We don’t know who may be the next victim…we know Cho Doo-soon’s face but we won’t be able to tell if it’s him or not, as he will be wearing a mask.”
Another user added: “Please, I wish he could just stay in jail.”
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