South Korea Justice Ministry rejects alleged mistreatment of jailed Park Geun Hye

Ousted former President Park Geun-hye arrives to attend a hearing on the extension of her detention at a court in Seoul, South Korea on Oct 13, 2017. She has been detained in a solitary cell at Seoul Detention Centre since she was arrested on March 31. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - South Korea's Justice Ministry on Wednesday (Oct 18) denied former president Park Geun Hye's claim that her rights are being violated at a detention facility where she is being held for corruption charges.

CNN cited a report written by her international legal team from global consultancy MH Group, saying that Park is living in a cell that is "dirty, cold and constantly lit so she cannot sleep".

In response, the Justice Ministry said: "Park is being held in a cell of an appropriate size with a heating system, TV, drawer and a flush toilet, among other things.

"During sleeping hours, we reduce the light to the extent that (inmates') movement can be observed. Two out of three lights are turned off."

Park has been detained in a solitary cell at Seoul Detention Centre in Uiwang, Gyeonggi Province, since she was arrested on March 31. She is standing trial on charges of bribery and abuse of power in connection with the corruption scandal that removed her from power in March.

The ministry also denied CNN reports that said Park is not receiving proper treatment despite her suffering from a handful of chronic conditions including lower back pain, osteoarthritis in her knee and shoulder joints, chronic fatigue due to adrenal insufficiency, as well as malnutrition at the detention facility.

"We are guaranteeing proper and sufficient medical treatment (for her) by allowing her to receive treatment from in-house medical staff at any time and allowing her to get treatment twice at outside medical facilities," the ministry said.

Park has been receiving treatment out of prison at Seoul St Mary's Hospital. She had not attended her own hearings on three occasions in July, citing pain in her toes.

The detention centre also added that she is provided with meals on a regular basis and a chance to exercise on a regular basis, as well as an extra folding mattress, given her back pain.

The allegations raised by MH Group are in stark contrast to public sentiment. The public has criticised the detention centre for granting special treatment to the former president, as it was revealed that she had been allowed to stay at a larger cell alone.

Detention centre officials did not confirm the exact size of her cell, but her solitary cell is said to be about 6.56 sq m in size. It was a cell used to house six to seven inmates, but was remodelled exclusively for her use. She stayed in an office at the detention facility for two days while her room was being prepared.

For most other inmates, six to seven people are allegedly held in a 12.01 sq m cell.

Like other cells, Park's cell comes with a TV, folding mattress, drawer, desk, sink and a flushing toilet, according to the detention facility. Like other inmates, she eats 1,440-won (S$1.70) meals with three to four side dishes, and sleeps on a foldable mattress.

Two former presidents, prominent politicians and business tycoons have also been sent to solitary cells to separate them from other inmates and ensure their safety.

Representative Roh Hoe Chan, floor leader of the minor progressive Justice Party, has raised allegations that Park had received "king-like" treatment early this month (October), ahead of the court's decision on whether to extend her detention.

According to the document he obtained from the Justice Ministry, he said that Park had received the privilege to use a 10.08 sq m room, five times bigger than a cell for ordinary inmates, despite the nation's correctional facilities housing 20 per cent more inmates than allowed due to a lack of space.

"The right to consult with a lawyer is the defendant's right, but it is hard to imagine meeting with a lawyer once a day for ordinary inmates due to attorney fees," he said, noting that Park has met with her lawyer more than once a day since she was arrested.

Over her 135-day detention as of Aug 24, she met with her lawyers 138 times. She had a meeting with detention centre officials 24 times and with head of the centre Lee Kyung Sik 12 times, the document showed.

He said that it shows the reality of "privilege" that those with money and power, unconcerned with lawyer fees, can enjoy.

Whenever such allegations of "special treatment" for Park surfaced, the detention centre had said that it had done so out of respect for the former president.

MH Group plans to submit the document on her situation in prison to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday, CNN reported. The OHCHR is set to conduct a routine review on South Korea's human rights early next month.

With Park's trial still underway, a Seoul court extended her custody by another six months last Friday, citing the possibility of her destroying evidence.

Park called her trial "political revenge in the name of the rule of the law".

"The past six months have been a terrible and miserable time," Park said. "It is meaningless to believe that the court will handle the case only in accordance with the Constitution and conscience despite political winds and public pressure."

Her local lawyers quit en masse in protest on Monday, taking issue with the fairness of the trial.

The local defence team is distinct from MH Group, a global legal firm that deals with high-profile international legal and diplomatic cases. It formerly represented Saif Gadhafi, the son of the late Libyan leader.

MH Group called the decision "excessive" and "unduly harsh", saying that Park is ailing and needs proper medical treatment out of custody.

"It is most unfortunate that the court has held that Ms Park must remain in custody when there are no legitimate lawful grounds for depriving her of her liberty while her trial continues," MH Group said in a statement.

"Under accepted international standards, detention is the exception. It should only be ordered when absolutely necessary as persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty."

Park stands accused of colluding with her longtime friend Choi Soon Sil to take bribes worth 43.3 billion won from large conglomerates, including Samsung Group. Other charges include coercion and leaking government secrets.

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