Anti-Government Protester Burns Himself to Death

On December 31st, a man burned himself to death on a road overlooking Seoul Station in the middle of the capital. Before dousing himself in flammable liquid, he unfurled banners criticizing the government and the recent NIS election interference. His suicide note also prominently featured the “how are you doing?” movement currently growing through posters throughout the country.

Netizens debated whether the man’s death was deserving of martyrdom or was a hyperbolic response to a political debate. This is not the first time a single protester has chosen a public location in Seoul for a political suicide, just six months ago a male rights activist jumped off a bridge over the Han river.

From The Kyunghyang Shinmun:

Convenience store clerk in his forties burns himself to death, asks final question: “How are you doing?”

On the last day of December in 2013, a man in his forties set himself ablaze on an elevated road in front of the Seoul Station. He died at 7:55 a.m. the next day. Lee Nam-jong bound himself in chains, hung up anti-government banners on the roadway, doused himself with flammable fluid and set himself on fire to end his own life. His death threw a question to Korean society in 2014.

“How are you doing?”

At the site of the incident, a blackened diary was discovered. Its cover was burnt but its contents were undamaged. There were three letters for his family, two letters for those who helped him, and two letters for the public. A 17-line memo entitled “How are you doing?” was written for the public.

Lee was born in Gwangju in 1973 as the second oldest of three siblings. His father was a teacher. He majored in English literature at Joseon University in the late 1990’s and finished his military duty as an ROTC captain. While he was preparing for a government exam, he drove a taxi as a part-time job. Due to a car accident, he gave up his studies. Afterwards, he began doing all sorts of work including making deliveries for a living. Before his death, he worked as a manager at a convenience store in Buk-gu, Gwangju. He had debt due to his older brother after he had made investments under his sibling’s name and incurred debts. The debts resulted in him becoming a credit delinquent seven or eight years ago.

During his school days, he was into poetry. His older brother said, “Nam-jong liked poetry. He was good at writing. There is a box full of his poems at home. He had been writing a diary since he was little.”

According to Park Ju-min, a lawyer who read Lee’s suicide notes, Lee sent his message to the public through the “How are you doing” poster format. In his suicide notes, he criticized the circumstances of illegal governmental interference in the last presidential election. He said the Park Geun-hye government is brushing it off as an ‘individual fault’ and trampling on democracy. He requested, “Our citizens are hesitant and afraid now. I will take all the fear with me. I ask you to rise up with no fear.” Before committing suicide, Lee hung up banners on the roadway reading “Park Geun-hye must resign. Implement a special investigation [against the NIS].”

Lee’s older brother said, “Nobody would set himself on fire for petty things. There must have been a strong message he wanted to send. How frustrated he must have been to chose such method?”

Lee took care of his family right until his suicide. He lived in a small apartment in Buk-gu, Gwangju, with his mother and older brother since 1992. Neighbors said, “Lee took care of his mother without complaints.” In his letter to his younger brother, Lee said, “I’m sorry to leave the burden on you. Don’t be sad. Think I died happily. Take care of mom.” About a week ago, Lee tried to change the recipient of his life insurance to his younger brother. It seems he tried to help his family with his death.

Lee’s mother, who rushed to the hospital in Seoul where her son was taken, sobbed and wailed until she could not stand upon hearing of her son’s death. Democratic Party permanent adviser Jeong Dong-young, Democratic Party’s lawmaker Nam-yun In-sun, Martyr Jeon Tae-il‘s younger brother Jeon Tae-sam, and others visited the funeral home. Lee’s funeral will be held as a democratic public funeral by a civic group on January 4th and he will be laid to rest in the democratic burial site in Mangwol-dong, Gwangju.

Comments from Daum:

머승님:

You are truly a martyr for democracy. Your honorable death will be eternally remembered in this country’s history and remind our descendants of the importance of democracy.

덤방님:

President Park Geune [disrespectfully misspelled] should think hard about his death. About who caused it. He will still be resentful in heaven. Rest in peace.

korea-immolation-burn-martyr-feature

네고시에이터님:

I can only say I’m sorry…

bluefin님:

Implement a special investigation for government agencies’ interference in the presidential election. Rest in peace.

나는너님:

I hope your death was not in vain… Rest in peace.

이슬처럼님:

The living shall follow this….

★ Democratic Party idiots, declare the last presidential election to be null and void right now and sue the fake president to stop her job. We should take down Park Geun-hye, who has benefited from all the dirty tricks of the national bureaucracy, including the Netizen Intelligence Service [National Intelligence Service], and hold a fair presidential election.

★Kim Jong-pil: “She [Park Geun-hye] even has a child with Choi Tae-min. How can she get into politics like that?”
Kim Hyeon-cheol: “It is an incontrovertibly fact that she has a child from Choi Tae-min.”
(http://earthly.tistory.com/1139)

★ When Roh Mu-hyun was elected president, who opposed it and asked for a recount? Let’s break the neck of the crazy chicken [referring to President Park] and save the country and democracy.

푸리님:

The criminal who set him on fire is the bulldozer president who doesn’t listen.

이슬처럼님:

★ I accuse former central election management and manipulation committee chairman Kim Neung-hwan of corruption on a scale unheard of in our nation’s history.

“Vote for the candidate’s promises.”

That’s the phrase he officially used in the last presidential election. He was an agent who actively supported Chicken Head [Saenuri] Party Park Geun-hye’s fraud against citizens. He lied that he would work at a convenience store after retirement and then went to a big law firm.

늘봄님:

This society is too tough on people to blame the suicide all on his personal situation. I hope it becomes better in the new year. Rest in peace.

블랙마린님:

Rest in peace. I hope you are happy and calm in heaven.

From Yonhap News:

“I will take the fear with me”, Self-immolation protester’s suicide notes revealed

The suicide notes from 40-year-old Lee Nam-jong who set himself on fire on an elevated road in front of the Seoul Station on December 31st have been revealed.

[…]

suicide-note

Lee Nam-jong’s suicide notes

[text of the suicide notes] How are you doing?

How are you doing, everyone? It is hard to even say hello in this tough situation. The Park Geun-hye administration is a coup administration that destroyed free democracy while pretending to advocate it without using physical weapons. President Park Geun-hye claims she values principles but why does she not apply those principles to herself?

President Park Geun-hye should take responsibility for the national bureaucracy’s interference in the presidential election, whether it was her plan, her willful negligence or the bureaucracy’s independent scheme. I hope President Park Geun-hye’s principles are not like the conscience of Lee Sang-deuk and Choi Shi-jung who shed crocodile tears and swore they had done nothing shameful.

Everyone, allow me to take away the invisible but very real fear and deficiency that exists here. I will take the fear with me. Rise up.

Park Seok-un, representative of the Korea Alliance for Progressive Movement, said, “Nothing in the suicide notes indicates that the deceased was depressed about his life conditions. The police should stop trying to attribute his death to his personal situation. The deceased himself called for the current administration’s resignation.”

The public funeral committee did not reveal the other five suicide notes out of concern for Lee’s privacy. The committee promoted the deceased as a martyr to democracy and plans to hold a public funeral. At 9:30 a.m. on January 4th, the funeral procession will have a send-off ceremony at Seoul Station Square and head to Gwangju for the final ceremony. Afterwards, his body will be buried in the old 5.18 burial site in Mangwol-dong.

Comments from Naver:
y2k8****:

A martyr for democracy? Ha ha, what dog-snorting bullshit. What’s more appalling is those who try to strategically use his death for political gain. So dirty….

hidd****:

A martyr for democracy? A public funeral? @@ I’m dumbfounded..

jjha****:

I guess if you die like that after suffering from bad credit and debt, you can go to the 5.18 burial site. What a world.

ktj0****:

Their specialty corpse sales [earning sympathy using deaths] have begun, ke ke ke. What a martyr. Yeah, right. They even turned him into a ‘man of democratic merit’, ke ke ke ke ke.

ryuk****:

‘A martyr of democratic merit’, ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke.

odao****:

What? Self-immolation to protect democracy? Aren’t his values messed up? Do we have a military dictatorship now? Or have we fallen to communism? I voted for Park, not because she’s Park Chung-hee’s daughter but because she seemed to be decent and able to get things done. I was sure that her family members wouldn’t rake in money through corruption.

baru****:

As long as death is involved, should everything be forgiven and beautified? I’m at a loss for words about our times where those who commit suicide because their crimes were being investigated or to overthrow the government are more respected than soldiers who fell during the Korean War.

dkqy****:

When I die, I will die like that, too. So I can get a cool public funeral…

kyeo****:

Rest in peace. But I’m dumbfounded that the reason for such extreme suicide through self-immolation was the Park Geun-hye administration.

lmu9****:

I’m at a loss for words. So you become a martyr as long as you die blaming the country and the government? Even a public funeral? “How are you doing?” Yeah, I’m doing just fine. Those who worship him as a martyr should be kicked out of country for real.

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  • Lois

    Rest in Peace。

  • Stefan Xu

    loser

    • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

      No, a loser wouldn’t have had the guts to immolate themselves. More likely he was dedicated, or crazy.

      Still don’t see how this will change much. People will be mad but things will die down pretty quick.

  • Chucky3176

    I already wrote about this guy, a week ago in another thread.

    What’s worse is the amount of exploitation done by the opposition parties, and the civic groups, holding up this death as martyrdom by convincing the surviving family to go along with their political games. Just simply disgusting.

    They want the president impeached or resigned, but there’s no one shred of evidence that she was behind the NIS twitter accounts scandal.

    The president of Korea is elected by the people, and therefore, it’s the people who get to decide when the president must go or get impeached. At this point, majority of Koreans do not support her resignation, as she still has a pretty high approval rating.

    If the opposition groups really believe in democracy, then they would wait 4 more years for the election to take place, and let the Koreans choose themselves.

    By the way, the guy was a nut case whose life sucked (working in a minimum wage job with no future can do that to you), and simply took out his frustrations on the government and using them as an excuse to take the shortcut way out. Now that’s what all this is about.

    • commander

      I have a question for you. Why do you think President Park has been passive in probing the NIS scandal if she is absolutely confident of her innocence with the scandal that has strained her leadership since she assumed presidency.

      (A former spy agency’s chief, detained over his role in ordering spy agents’ intervention into the presidential scandal, was found guilty of receiving bribes in a separate trial, leaving the impression that he is placed out of public spotlight to avert a possible broadening scrutiny.)

      Is it easiser to dispel any lingering doubt over her possible role in what many observers call a grave threat to democracy by ordering thorough investigation?

      What’s your take?

      • chucky3176

        And what makes you think she’s been passive probing the NIS scandal? What do you want her to do? Why not just let the investigators do their job and wait for the result? After all, didn’t they just announce that they uncovered over a thousand troll twitter accounts that posted 2 million messages? Sounds like they’re doing at least something to investigate. And if they come back with an answer that Park wasn’t involved in the scandal, would the opposition accept that result? Of course not. They’ll say the investigation is a fraud. The only result they’ll ever accept is that she was the one behind it all, planned it all, and she stuffed her own ballots. That’s the only acceptable answer, you know that, and I know that. Come on. Using this terrible senseless suicide of a mentally disturbed man to gain politically by elevating him to be a martyr? … what kind of scumbags would do that?

        • commander

          Given the immense power of South Korea’s so-called imperial presidency, if she want to bring the nationally divisive scandal to light, the truth will inevitably emerge to the public. And this is what sensible conservatives agree n.

          Although it is not verified, the prevailing speculation over a former top prosecutor’s resignation is that the abrupt disclosure of a love child from his extramarital affair may be caused by his push for the probe into the NIS scandal in a move that would irk those in power.

          And as I said above, I dont want to argue over the self immolation death.

          I want to neither downplay his death nor attach significance to it, a stance that I think is epitomized by the phrase “Rest in peace,” written by many Netizens.

          After all, he took his death, and the only problem with it is the living’s argument over who is right in another political standoff.

        • frombie

          Chucky 3176
          “what kind of scumbags would do that?”

          Politicians…..

  • ChuckRamone

    I don’t understand the point of self-immolation protests. Aren’t you hurting your cause by lessening your own numbers? Seems like the message being sent is short-lived for most outside people who will forget about it after a while. It would be better to stick around and campaign for your cause.

  • RothschildIsMoney

    Stop thinking such actions warrant a ‘regime change’. His anger is understandable, but it’s not as if he is being killed or barred from anything. Killing yourself in this circumstance will not elicit the sort of sympathy that he expect. Self-immolation is not a free ticket to international outrage and ‘regime change’. Type of outrage this self-immolater expect create simply does not exist.

  • Courtland Miles

    Yea I think trumpeting him as a martyr is a little far fetched. This guy clearly had personal problems. Anyone who goes to the extreme of killing themselves (especially through self immolation) are deeply troubled in some respect and need help and support from others. Believe me, I lived through eight crappy years of Dubya at the helm in the states. I saw a lot of violent and extreme protests, but I never saw anyone kill themselves over Bush, and have it touted as a political piece by the Democrats.

    I feel, if anything, it again highlights the obsession with suicide in the ROK. I have heard of teenagers here jumping off of their apartment buildings because their parents wouldn’t buy them a new North Face jacket. What? What is embedded so strongly in some East Asian cultures that it’s ok to just end your life so quickly? I know this seems to be a problem in Japan too, but I think per capita South Korea has the second highest suicide rate in the world.

    I was chatting with one of my Korean friends about politics here the idea day. He lived in the USA for seven years and fully assimilated into western culture, so it’s interesting to get his opinion. He said that the suicide of Roh Moo-hyun, who he supported, has left politics and the public here in a state of trauma. Instead of calling it a right wing conspiracy (which I’ve heard many times), he said the biggest problem is no one still knows really why he did it. What was so painful for him? He said it has caused him to do a lot of soul searching, and ask why suicide and the conservative hierarchy and honor are still so strong in modern South Korea. I thought it was a very interesting response.

  • One for all

    The juxtaposition of a highly Christian-influenced society and a mind-numbingly high suicide rate.

    RIP dude, but unfortunately your death will be in vain

  • vonskippy

    The lack of logic in that act baffles the mind. I’ll teach you, I’ll kill myself – there – did you learn your lesson?

    Wtf?????????????

  • commander

    Some people claim that he took his life because of his personal problems not because of political causes, scoffing at the public sympathy with his death as absurd.

    Others claim that his death should be put in the context of President Park’s rejection of calls for the NIS scandal and of her failure to roll out significant policy for economic democratization–ensuring the level playing ground for all.

    Whatever his motivation was–actually I dont want to have an argument over his death, one thing is clear: Ms. Park is failing to bring unity to Korean society.

    She should mull over what she can do for a national unity, her presidential election promise.

    • chucky3176

      You don’t understand. The question should be about why would a man be so crazy that he feels he needs to take his own life by dousing himself in gasoline and set himself in fire. Please don’t blame his death on Ms. Park. Ms. Park had nothing to do with his crazy suicidal act. Another question should be, why are so many Koreans still so tolerant toward such radical acts? Life is not cheap, nobody should tolerate self killings over politics, nor for any other reason however you strongly feel about it. There is what we call law and order, and Korea is a democracy. If you don’t like the government, you can vote them out in the next election. Don’t try to start a mass violent revolution in Korea, we’re way past beyond that.

      • commander

        Please, dont say I said what I didnt say.

        I never lay any blame of his death on President Park.

        Please, take a closer look at what I said.

  • jon776

    Yet another victim of the fascist government of South Korea.

  • Boudou

    Yeah, that’s one way I definitely don’t want to die. Setting yourself on fire. Your skin burning off of you, its a slow and painful death as anyone could wish.

  • Jen

    I knew many activists also practiced self-immolation in the United States, opposing to Vietnam War waged by the US imperialists. But, for me, it’s scary too much. Too extreme, and thereby, not convincing. Not even helpful for solidarity.

  • bigmamat
  • Western Sydney

    park is no better than Abe

  • chucky3176

    Perhaps the anti government protestors should look themselves in the mirror before they complain about government frauds and favour for the rich.

    50% of South Koreans don’t even pay any taxes for the income they earn.

    http://news.naver.com/main/read.nhn?mode=LSD&mid=sec&sid1=101&oid=003&aid=0004466599

    If this is true, underground cash economy where no taxes are collected, are much higher than 35%, as reported. If all those people who evade taxes paid their fair share, the GDP of the country would be at least 35% bigger on paper, if not more.

    Yet here they are, complaining that the government is no good. Well, what about them? I bet at least half of those labour people evade all income taxes. Why won’t they share their wealth, yet expect the Korean industries and the rich to pick up their bill for them?

    There’s an old adage. You get the kind of government that you deserve.

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