Fighting for Baek Nam-gi, the South Korean farmer-activist
Seoul—Inside the intensive-care unit (ICU) of Seoul National University Hospital, Baek Nam-gi, a 69-year-old farmer and lifelong political activist, lies in a deep coma. His skull is still partially open after his surgery last November, when he was rushed here after being knocked violently to the ground by a burst from a high-powered water cannon deployed by the police forces of President Park Geun-hye’s government. They were trying to block a massive demonstration of 130,000 people in downtown Seoul protesting Park’s labor and trade policies.
I am here with Doraji Monica Baek, his eldest daughter, a slim, quiet woman who works as an editor for a local publisher of novels. She has asked me to accompany her to the ICU to visit her father. Baek had read my article in The Nation last December about the events that brought her father here as part of her family’s quest for justice. I feel a mixture of sorrow and privilege as we stand quietly by his bed, where he lies motionless except for the deep heaves in his chest as a machine forces him to breathe in and out. I touch her arm, and she places her hand on mine. There are no words at moments like this.
Mr. Baek, whose prognosis is not good, has become a symbol to many Koreans of the increasingly harsh response of the Park government toward dissent. In particular, people are angry and disgusted with police violence and a climate of impunity in which the government refuses to take responsibility for the actions of police officials. In Baek’s case, Park’s government has never apologized to his family and, according to human-rights activists, promoted officials involved in the November incident, including the police commander who ran the operation that day…
Thus begins my latest piece in The Nation, where you can read the rest of the story. But, first, click here to view the incredible footage from the November demonstration, where you can see Mr. Baek being directly targeted by the water cannons, as his daughter charges in the article. Below are some more photos, including a shot of Doraji and I at SNU hospital and several from the demonstration for justice on Monday in Seoul, organized by Amnesty International Korea and other organizations, at the exact spot where Mr. Baek was knocked to the ground. Finally, after the photos I’ve posted more information about Mr. Baek and the issues raised by his injuries, provided by AI Korea.