Capital punishment in South Korea

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Capital punishment is a legal penalty in South Korea. As of 2017, there are at least 300 people in South Korea under a death sentence.[1] Executions are carried out by hanging.

On August 27, 2015, the Supreme Court sentenced a man called "Jiang Jaechin" to death for multiple murder, rape, and child rape. This is the last civilian on death row.

On February 19, 2016, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence passed on a man known by the surname 'Lim', a 24-year-old army sergeant who killed five fellow soldiers and injured seven others in a shooting rampage near the border with North Korea in 2014. He became the 361st person on death row in South Korea. According to Yonhap, of the 361 people on death row, 45, including Lim, were soldiers.[2][3]


Executions in Korea have existed since 1895. The purpose of executions was to cause reactions and stop crimes. Methods of executions included slow slicing, hanging, and dismemberment. Heads of executed people were displayed to the public both to serve as public warning and enforce military courtesy. However, bodies of executed people were allowed funeral proceedings.[4]

In contemporary history, the first execution law was established on March 25, 1895, by the Supreme Court of Judicature of Japan acting under the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. The first death sentence was given four days later, on March 29, 1895 to Jeon Bongjun.

Currently, the Penal Code of South Korea regulates executions as a form of punishment for some crimes according to the Criminal Law section 41. Those crimes include: Rebellion (Section 87), Conspiracy with foreign countries (Section 92), homicide (Section 250), robbery-homicide (Section 338), and other 12 sections. People under 18 cannot be executed according to Juvenile Law (Section 59, Juvenile Law).[5]


In February 1998, then-president Kim Dae-jung enacted a moratorium on executions. This moratorium is still in effect as of 2013.[6] Thus, executions in Korea are considered to be abolished de facto.[7] The last executions took place in December 1997, when 23 people (each of whom has murdered at least 2 people) were put to death.[8] However, there are still at least 60 people with a death sentence, as of 2013.[1]

In 2010 the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled that capital punishment did not violate “human dignity and worth” in the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. In a five-to-four decision, capital punishment was upheld as constitutional. Institutions such as Amnesty International considered this a ‘major setback for South Korea'.[7] Later in 2010, Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam alluded to a possibility of resuming executions.[9] In 2013, three bills which proposed abolishment of the death penalty lapsed at the end of the National Assembly’s term.[1]

Executions are still a matter of debate.[8] People have called for executions for violent crimes, especially those involving rape of minors.[10]

A 2017 poll found younger South Koreans are more likely to support capital punishment than older ones. People in their 20s were the most supportive at 62.6 percent.[11][12]

Notable cases[edit]

Kang Ho-sun was convicted of kidnapping and killing eight women between 2006 and 2008, and of burning to death his wife and mother-in-law in 2005. Kang, 38, was arrested in January for the murder of a female college student and later confessed to killing and secretly burying seven other women.[13] Other death row inmates include Yoo Young-chul and members of the Chijon family, a former gang of cannibals.

In March 2010, in contrast to prior speculations, Minister Lee Kwi-nam hinted that the executions of death row inmates will resume, breaking the virtual 13-year moratorium.[14] The remarks came a few days after Kim Kil-tae, who raped and murdered a 15-year-old schoolgirl, was convicted. However, this did not happen.

In December 2010, Kim's death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment and the prosecutors did not appeal to the Supreme Court.[15]


  1. ^ a b c Amnesty International Report 2013 (PDF), Amnesty International Report, Amnesty International, 2013, pp. 162–164
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-10-13. Retrieved 2016-02-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^
  4. ^ "사형". Academy of Korean Studies. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  5. ^ "사형[Todesstrafe,死刑]". Doosan Corporation. Retrieved October 22, 2013.
  6. ^ Bright, Arthur. "India uses death penalty: 5 other places where it's legal but rare". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
  7. ^ a b "South Korea death penalty abolition set back by Constitutional Court ruling". Amnesty International. February 25, 2010. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  8. ^ a b "South Korea must not resume use of the death penalty". Amnesty International. February 16, 2013. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  9. ^ Park, Si-soo (March 16, 2010). "Minister Hints at Resuming Death Row Executions". The Korea Times. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  10. ^ Woo, Jaeyeon (September 6, 2012). "Hideous Crimes Spark Debate on Death Penalty". Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-07-12. Retrieved 2018-07-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Korean killer gets death penalty". BBC News. 2009-04-21.
  14. ^ "Minister Hints at Resuming Death Row Execution". March 16, 2010. Retrieved March 16, 2010.
  15. ^ Bae, Hyun-jung (2010-12-15). "Rapist-murderer's sentence reduced to life imprisonment". The Korean Herald English Edition. Retrieved 2014-10-20.