Asia

Protests Erupt as South Korea’s Most Notorious Rapist Walks Free

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s most infamous rapist was released on Saturday after serving 12 years in prison, sparking angry demonstrations and anonymous death threats that led to an increased police presence outside the predator’s home.

Protesters gathered outside a prison in southern Seoul on Saturday, shouting “Send him to hell!” and “Castrate him!,” as the rapist Cho Doo-soon was released.

Mr. Cho was arrested in 2008 and later convicted for raping an 8-year-old girl, and his name has since become synonymous with the soft-glove treatment sex offenders are said to receive in the country’s courts.

When Mr. Cho, now 68, was released at dawn on Saturday, people were still enraged.

“What kind of country is this, protecting such a rapist?” protesters shouted as Mr. Cho was driven out in a gray government van under heavy police protection.

Some protesters lay on the pavement, holding signs and shouting slogans, in an attempt to prevent Mr. Cho from leaving. Police officers removed them and built barricades to allow the van carrying Mr. Cho to pass. Protesters kicked at the van and hurled eggs and insults at the vehicle. Anonymous death treats were issued against Mr. Cho online, forcing the authorities to add more police officers and surveillance cameras around his home.

Public anger has surged in recent months as the date of Mr. Cho’s release approached. Last Wednesday, the National Assembly passed a bill, nicknamed the “Cho Doo-soon law,” which banned people convicted of sexually assaulting minors from leaving their homes at night or during hours when students commute to and from school. The law also bans such sex offenders from going near schools.

South Korean courts have long been accused of leniency in meting out justice to white-collar criminals and sex offenders.

In April, a 24-year-old man named Son Jong-woo was released from prison after completing an 18-month sentence for running one of the world’s biggest child pornography websites. In July, a local court rejected the United States Justice Department’s request to have him extradited to face money-laundering and other charges in an American court.

Women’s rights advocates have said the justice system’s inability to properly punish sex offenders has allowed sexual abuse to proliferate nationwide.

But sex crimes here have also attracted more scrutiny in recent years, coupled with the country’s growing #MeToo movement, and the government has vowed tougher punishments. Last month, a 25-year-old man named Cho Joo-bin was sentenced to 40 years in prison for blackmailing young women, including eight minors, into making sexually explicit videos that he sold through encrypted online chat rooms.

Cho Doo-soon, who is not related to Cho Joo-bin, was drunk when he kidnapped a first-grader on her way to school and raped her in a church restroom in 2008. His drunkenness, age and “weak mental state” were cited as mitigating factors when the court sentenced him to 12 years in prison. The prosecutors, who in South Korea can push for stiffer punishments after sentencing in an appeal, chose not to.

Mr. Cho’s pending release from prison captured the attention of many South Koreans and the local news media for weeks. The Justice Ministry had not revealed from which prison Mr. Cho would be released on Saturday or at what time. But hundreds of protesters and journalists found out and gathered outside the Seoul prison from which he was released, the Justice Ministry facility in Ansan south of Seoul where Mr. Cho made a brief stop, and a house in Ansan where he planned to live with his wife.

Ansan residents have protested his return home, saying that they don’t feel safe with him in their neighborhood.

The police promised round-the-clock monitoring. Mr. Cho was seen wearing an electronic ankle monitor when he left prison on Saturday and was ordered to wear it for seven years. His whereabouts and photograph will be available on a government website for registered sex offenders.

The police also installed a monitoring system at his home and will make random visits there to check on him. They also have added 35 surveillance cameras, brighter streetlights and police booths in Mr. Cho’s neighborhood to monitor his movements and also deter people who have threatened to attack him. Police officers specially trained in martial arts will patrol his neighborhood.

Mr. Cho, wearing a cap and mask, did not respond to questions shouted by reporters on Saturday. But Ko Jeong-dae, a Justice Ministry official assigned to supervise Mr. Cho during his post-prison life, said Mr. Cho was surprised by the rage directed at him.

“While we were moving in the car, he told me he hadn’t expected this,” Mr. Ko told reporters in a briefing. “He said he had committed an unpardonable atrocity and he would live in repentance for the rest of his life.”

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