Human rights lawyer Lee Don-myung, who defended democratization and labor activists in the 1970s and 1980s, died of natural causes at his home Tuesday. He was 89.
Born in Naju, South Jeolla Province in 1922, he graduated from Chosun University in Gwangju with a major in political science, passed the judicial examination in 1952 to be a judge, and began practicing law as an attorney in 1963.
He took his first defense case in a high-profile human rights and democratization case in April, 1974. About 180 student and religious activists, who called for civil rights and democratization, were arrested and indicted on charges of plotting to topple the state and establish a communist regime. They were sentenced to death, life imprisonment, or 20 years to 15 years in prison, but released in February, 1975, by a presidential order. In 2005, a government truth commission declared that the charges were manipulated to repress students’ anti-government protests. In 2009, the court acquitted them of treason charges.
He defended similar democratization, human rights and labor cases in the 1970s and early 1980s.
In 1986, he was arrested on charges of violating the National Security Law for hiding a labor activist wanted by police.
Lee himself worked as an activist by serving as chairman of the Justice and Peace Committee of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea in 1986 and a co-leader of a national movement for a democratic constitution in 1987.
In 1987, he became a founding director of the Hankyoreh, a dissident newspaper, and in 1988 took the helms of Chosun University as president to lead its reforms after mismanagement.
Until recently he worked as an attorney of Duksu Law Offices in Seoul.