- Park Won-Soon, the mayor of Seoul, was reported missing on Thursday and was found dead early Friday morning, days after reportedly being accused of sexual harassment by a former secretary.
- His death was officially considered a suicide after a note was found at his residence.
- The allegations are particularly shocking because Park was a known advocate for women’s rights and was considered a potential presidential candidate.
- His accuser suggested more of Park’s victims existed but were scared to come forward. In accordance with South Korean law, an investigation into the matter has been dropped because of his death.
Body Found at Bukaksan
The mayor of Seoul, a potential presidential candidate and arguably the second most powerful public official in the country, was found dead on Friday, roughly two days after a former secretary from his office accused him of sexually harassing her in 2017.
According to authorities, the body of Park Won-Soon was found on a forested hill on Bukaksan, a mountain in northern Seoul, not too far from his home in the Jongno neighborhood. CCTV footage showed the mayor arriving at the park by taxi at 10:53 a.m. on Thursday. By 5:17 p.m. Thursday, his daughter filed a police report stating that he “had left home four to five hours ago” and left a message that sounded like his will. By this point, his phone was turned off.
Shortly after the report, upwards of 600 officers, K-9 units, and medical personnel were dispatched to search for the mayor. At 12:01 a.m. Friday, his body was found near a bag, a water bottle, a cell phone, writing utensils, and Park’s business card. Police reported that there were no signs this case was a homicide, and after the unveiling of a note from his residence, it was considered a suicide.
In the note, Park wrote that he was “sorry” to everyone and specifically stated that he was sorry to his family for “causing only pain.” His note made no mention of the allegations against him.
Police are in talks with the Park family over whether to conduct an autopsy. In the meantime his body is being kept at Seoul National University Hospital, where supporters could be seen outside crying and shouting, “Get up, Park Won-Soon,” and “We’re sorry, Park Won-Soon!”
Park’s death is a dramatic loss for the city for a variety of reasons. Despite South Korea having the highest suicide rate among the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, suicide by politicians is quite rare. Additionally, Park has been a staple of life in Seoul, which dominates the political landscape of South Korea. He was the longest serving mayor in the country’s history, having been in the role since 2011.
He was also considered a likely candidate to run for the Democratic party after President Moon Jae-in’s term was up in 2022 – the same time Park’s most recent mayoral tenure would end.
The circumstances leading up to his presumed-suicide have also left many South Korean citizens shocked. On Wednesday, a former secretary from his office went to police and filed a report accusing the mayor of sexual harassment, although this accusation wasn’t public until after Park went missing.
For years, South Korea has been embroiled in its own #MeToo reckoning, leading to many actors, businessmen, and politicians losing their positions and often facing jail time.
However, the allegations against Park, of which few details are actually known to the public, reportedly include unwanted physical contact and inappropriate messages. His alleged victim, according to Chosun Ilbo, gave investigators messages and inappropriate photos Park had sent her while she worked for him. She also allegedly said that there were more victims who were too scared to come forward.
The allegations are particularly shocking because of Park’s past. The mayor was long been considered a pillar of civil rights and women’s rights. He was famous for being a prominent civil rights attorney who founded the nation’s most influential civil rights group.
During his time as a lawyer, he campaigned on behalf of “comfort” women, Korean sex slaves who were forced into the role by the Japanese during the 1930s and ’40s. He also won major cases, including a case in the ’80s, during the country’s dictatorship, against a police officer who molested a woman while she was being interrogated. One of his biggest accolades was winning South Korea’s first sexual harassment case ever in the ’90s.
These actions were often praised by supporters because they challenged South Korea’s strict hierarchical and patriarchal structure, which are ingrained into the culture and language.
During his time as mayor, he focused on the environment and urban renewal for Seoul. Park also focused on fighting and containing COVID-19, leading to Seoul, a city of 10 million, having less than 2000 cases. For comparison, the city of Los Angeles, which is similar in population but less densely populated, had well over 50,000 cases.
Five Days of Funeral Services
In accordance with South Korean law, the police investigation against Park will be dropped due to his death. That’s because police won’t have someone to actually charge a crime with.
Although, when city officials were asked if they would be conducting their own investigation, officials said they are “not yet aware” of the allegations.
Park’s note mentioned that he wished to be cremated and have his ashes spread over his parents’ graves. Currently, the city of Seoul will be holding a mayoral funeral for Park, which means it will last five days. Generally speaking, Korean funerals last three days.
An altar will be set up in front of City Hall in Seoul for citizens and staff members wanting to mourn Park’s death.
See What Others Are Saying: (Yonhap News Agency) (Chosun Ilbo) (The Korea Times)
Thousands Protest in Russia Demanding Release of Putin Foe Alexei Navalny
- Russia faced some of the largest protests it has seen in recent years after thousands took to the streets Saturday demanding the government release opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
- Russian authorities declared the protests illegal and detained more than 3,500 people from more than 100 cities, including Navalny’s wife.
- The government also released a statement addressing Navalny by name for the first time, attempting to discredit claims he has made, including the idea that President Vladimir Putin has a billion-dollar villa on the Black Sea coast.
Largest Russian Protests in Recent History
Russia experienced some of its largest protests in years Saturday after opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for demonstrations to be held following his arrest.
Supporters demanded Navalny’s release but also called for an end to perceived rampant corruption in the Russian state.
Tens of thousands took to the streets and clashed with police in more than 100 cities, with independent monitors claiming that 3,500 people were detained by police. Among those detained was Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, who was targeted by authorities during the protests. She is reported to have been released by Russian media agencies such as TASS.
Despite Russian authorities declaring the protests illegal and warning of repercussions for those who attend, the protests managed to reach a wide range of people. According to the New York Times, over ⅓ of protesters in Moscow said they had never protested before.
Despite the movements current popularity, it may be difficult to turn the popular, anti-Putin movement into something more.The protesters span a broad range of the political spectrum, from far-left communist and anarchist groups to nationalists and libertarians, meaning that while they dislike Putin and the corruption in the Russian government, they agree on little else.
Changing the Message
The protests unveiled a new shift in how Russian authorities deal with Navalny. In the past, authorities and state-backed media never mentioned him by name in order to downplay him; however, that changed this weekend.
Newscasters aired multiple programs to discredit him and paint him as a tool of the West, while Putin denied Navalny’s claims that he has a secret, billion-dollar villa on the coast of the Black Sea. Based on his salary of $133,000 a year, Putin would only be able to afford a single home in Russia. However, there is speculation that due to corruption and embezzling, Putin is likely the actual richest person alive.
Regarding Navalny himself, he’s still in jail pending court proceedings on Feb. 2. If those go poorly for Navalny, he could be in prison until the mid-2020s, but he is more concerned about his immediate future.
In a video to supporters prior to the protests, he made it clear that he has no intention of committing suicide. That statement was likely made due to the fact that many Russian dissidents seem to die via suicide, with much speculation about whether or not that was actually the case.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Business Insider) (Associated Press)
Some Flyers Are Forging Old COVID-19 Tests To Travel
- As a number of countries and airlines impose rules requiring negative COVID tests up to 72 before flights, more and more people have been forging old tests to make them look new.
- In a recent report from Vice’s Motherboard, two anonymous men detailed how they forged documents to avoid having to pay for new ones.
- “Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” one man told Motherboard.
Forging Old COVID-19 Tests
Many countries are now requiring flyers to present negative COVID-19 tests no more than 72 hours before they board planes; however, some people are reportedly forging their test results to get around the restrictions.
According to Vice’s Motherboard, one anonymous individual used Photoshop to change the date of several of his friends’ older coronavirus tests.
“Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” the man told the outlet.
Another person told Motherboard that he had changed the date of an old test result using Microsoft Paint in order to travel to Southern Europe for vacation.
Situations like this in Europe are not completely new.
“We needed a COVID-19 test for a family member and I spoke to one travel agent and he said, ‘Get it done and even if it comes out positive we will provide a negative one for you for £50’,” one person told The Sun in October.
While those people seemingly got away with potential forgery crimes, others haven’t.
Last week, it was reported that 45 people were caught trying to enter Croatia with fake COVID tests. Notably, they could each face up to three years in prison for forging documents.
Earlier this month, a 17-year-old Dutch girl was also caught with a forged COVID test while trying to escape quarantine in Switzerland.
Why Are People Forging Documents?
Part of the reason people are forging old COVID-19 tests may be to keep from being barred if a new test comes back positive; however, there also appears to be at least one other major reason: money.
Right now, tests in most European countries are free, but that’s not the case for people trying to go on vacation.
In fact, people traveling for leisure have been warned not to use free COVID-19 testing services to meet flight demands. Instead, they are required to pay out of pocket to have their test sent to a private company.
See what others are saying: (Motherboard) (The Independent) (TravelPulse)
Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests
- Shortly after his arrest on Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for protests to take place on Jan. 23 and was met with a wave of support online.
- In response, the government ordered tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Russian-centric VK to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
- TikTok has already deleted 38% of posts with such calls while VK and YouTube have deleted 50%, and Instagram has removed 17%.
Navalny Calls for Protests
Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and subsequent arrest earlier this week has set off a chain of events in the country.
Since his arrest, Navalny has called for protests to occur on Jan. 23. Now, Russian authorities are taking precautions and arresting his allies in an effort to slow down the momentum of the looming demonstrations. Among their many demands are that Navalny be released.
Throughout the week, thousands of posts shared by younger Russians have raged across social media asking that people partake in the protests. The reach of those posts, however, have been curtailed by the government.
Social media tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and the Russian-centric VK were ordered by the Russian government to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, later stated, “Internet sites will be brought to administrative responsibility in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”
“Participation in such events is in violation of the established procedure, including in a pandemic, and carries risks of harm to life and health,” it added.
Censorship Payoff Unknown
For many of the sites, which are often seen as a way to promote free speech in regimes that are far more restrictive, the order puts them in an awkward position. Still, many have already complied, at least to some extend.
According to Roskomnadzor, Tiktok has deleted 38% of videos calling for minors to attend the protests. VK and YouTube have both deleted 50% of similar posts, while Instagram has removed 17% of posts that violate the regulations.
It’s unclear to what extent this censorship will have on stopping Russians from attending tomorrow’s protests; however, some of the nation’s largest protests in modern history have been organized by Navalny.