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A South Korean man is sentenced to 40 years in a stalking and murder case

A woman pays her respects as she displays a note near the entrance to a female lavatory at Sindang station in Seoul on Sept. 19, 2022. Seoul Metro employee Jeon Joo-hwan was sentenced Tuesday for stabbing his colleague to death in the metro station's women's public toilet the day before a court was set to sentence him on charges of stalking her.
Anthony Wallace
/
AFP/Getty Images
A woman pays her respects as she displays a note near the entrance to a female lavatory at Sindang station in Seoul on Sept. 19, 2022. Seoul Metro employee Jeon Joo-hwan was sentenced Tuesday for stabbing his colleague to death in the metro station's women's public toilet the day before a court was set to sentence him on charges of stalking her.

SEOUL —A South Korean court sentenced a man to 40 years in prison on Tuesday for stabbing a female colleague to death in a Seoul subway station — an act the court deemed "revenge murder."

The man, 31-year-old Jeon Joo-hwan, sent the victim unwanted text messages, then threatened her with videos he filmed with a hidden camera at their workplace restroom.

In 2021 — two years and 350 text messages after his initial threats — the woman reported Jeon to the police and filed a criminal complaint. He was charged with stalking. The day before his sentencing was due on those charges, he snuck into the women's bathroom at Seoul's Sindang metro station, wearing a disposable hair cap, waited for her to come in, and stabbed her to death.

Jeon and his victim, a 28-year-old woman who has not been named, were both employed by the Seoul Metro Corporation. The killing at the subway station in central Seoul last September shocked South Korea, though it was not the first such killing. Women in recent years have demanded safety in public spaces and workplaces from threats like illegal filming, gender-based hate crime and sexual abuse.

The calls have led to some meaningful achievements. An anti-stalking law passed the congress in 2021, more than 20 years after the first such bill was proposed. New amendments to laws on sexual violence have criminalized filming or distributing videos and pictures of someone against their will.

The victim relied on these laws when she filed a criminal complaint accusing Jeon of committing crimes the laws punish. But they failed to protect her life.

After she filed the criminal complaint against Jeon, police sought to detain him, but a court denied an arrest warrant, citing low risk of destroying evidence or fleeing. Jeon continued sending threats to the victim, demanding settlement of criminal charges.

Following her death, experts pointed out shortfalls in South Korea's current anti-stalking law, which narrowly defines legally recognized stalking and includes a clause that prohibits prosecuting a perpetrator against the victim's objection.

Kim Jeong-hye, a researcher at the Korean Women's Development Institute, said in a forum last October that the clause "reflects the idea that stalking occurs in the realm of private life and trivializes the crime." Kim also called for more robust protection of stalking victims, considering that the crime often happens in repeated instances over an extended period of time.

According to police data, nearly 30,000 reports were filed for stalking in the first year of the anti-stalking law's implementation. Police sought arrest warrants for 377 among 7,100 perpetrators apprehended in that period. Of those indicted, 27% were sentenced to prison. Before his sentencing on Tuesday, Jeon was already serving a 9-year sentence resulting from the victim's original charges of illegal filming and stalking.

After the killing last September, people mourned the victim, laying flowers and Post-it notes at a makeshift shrine outside the Sindang station bathroom. Next to a plaque touting the city government's campaign for "Women-friendly Seoul," one note read, "How many more must die?"

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Se Eun Gong