Author Archives: shan518

About shan518

I am Shahnawaz and I keen to promote Human Rights, Social Movements, Democratization and Peacebuilding in the world.

The May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising and Youth

On May 18, South Koreans have marked the 40th anniversary of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising of 1980, and it is one of the most traumatic incident in the history of contemporary Korea. The 10-days Democratic Uprising was triggered when young students started protesting against the military coup in Korea in 1980.

In the morning of May 18, at the main gate of the Chonnam National University, a student protest begins against martial law forces who were occupying their campus. The primary aim of the rally was to get entry inside of the Chonnam National University for their education. But a peaceful demonstration of around 100-600 students met a bloody encounter when soldiers made direct attacks to disperse the protesters. This incident triggered the Gwangju Democratic Uprising. Later, a series of assaults and abuses witnessed on that day. On the 3rd day of the demonstration, the small pockets of student activists were joined by the citizens, from market vendors to taxi drivers.

During the protest, young students show leadership skills and they established a foundation of social movement at Gwangju against the military coup in Korea. The leadership of students remained peaceful and organized torch rally against the new dictatorship in Korea, which was suppressing the fundamental rights of the nation. They went to their fellow citizen of Gwangju and shared their concerns and aspiration of democracy with them. These leadership skills of student impressed the citizen of Gwangju and they joined with their social movement. Besides, professors also provided the significant aid and they recorded their protest in front of the old provincial hall of Gwangju. However, the military dispatched highly trained troops to control the peaceful demonstrations at Gwangju. 

As we know that paratroopers who were highly trained combatants of any army and they were trained to fight behind the enemy lines and they mostly prepared to conduct special missions against enemies. Therefore, sending such troops to Gwangju was the first trigger to commit violence against the citizen. Paratroopers primarily were trained to fight with the enemy, but they were not known and were totally untrained to control the civil movements against their citizens. In result, the paratroopers used brutal force against students, innocent citizens, taxi drivers and labours. Further, Citizens of Gwangju along with youth remained peaceful, but military-controlled media called them riots and started malafide propaganda against them.

It was shocking for the youth and citizen when they noticed that the military began using live ammunition against their fellows and that makes them horrified. In response, the youth of Gwangju took outmoded arms against the army to protect themselves as well as their fellows. Even after such actions, the youth militia committee leaders went to the military command to negotiate with them, and they agreed to surrender their arms if the military promised fair legal trial against the offenders and if they make their fellow’s citizens free. 

The military never responded to their request and respect to their call of negotiations. We know youth are an emotional group of any society and country. Under the social contract; countries and leaders are bounded to behave like as caretaker to their nation, but the Korean dictator responded with fire and fury. Even the youth leadership of militia knows that they are not going to fight one hour against highly equipped and trained troops who were supported by the Tanks and reconnaissance helicopters. Only a few militia people occupied the old provincial hall of Gwangju. The occupation was aimed to leave a message for the public of Korea that they sacrificed their lives against dictatorship in Korea and they left their homes so they could protect freedom and liberty in Korea. 

Today, we know that even with colossal military, arms, tanks, and helicopters, those troops lost everything while they were killed few at old provincial hall Gwangju who were standing for liberty and human rights in Korea. The martyrs of 518 won the heart and mind of people of Gwangju. Presently, city of Gwangju now known as “Birth Place of Korean Democracy”. Further, sacrificing by the youth of Gwangju during the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Movement will never forget by the people of Korea as well as people of Asia. Let’s keep spreading the blaze of Gwangju Spirit forever and to all over the world. 

The May 18 Spirit: A Dictator Escaping from Justice

On 27 April 2020, the former dictator General Chun-du hwan appeared for trail in the Gwangju court. The Gwangju court was heavily surrounded by the Police, Detectives, and Intelligence officers who were vigilantly observing protesters and instructing their subordinates.

The Former Dictator President Chun Doo-hwan, was being tried on charges of defamation of the deceased for denouncing the late Catholic priest Cho Pius in his book of memoirs as a “shameless liar” after the latter claimed to have seen martial law forces firing on civilians from helicopters during the events of the May 18 Democratization Movement in 1980.

The Former Dictator Chun secretly arrived around 12:20 pm at Gwangju District Court to attend the hearing under chief judge Hon. Kim Jeong-hoon of the 8th criminal division in criminal courtroom Gwangju. Chun was wearing a face mask as he stepped out of his vehicle and immediately proceeded into the courthouse. His wife Lee Soon-ja accompanied him into the courtroom as a “close relation.” The press reports constantly asked questioned to Dictator about the massacre in Gwangju in 1980 and did you “refuse[s] to take responsibility when so many people died in Gwangju who was protesting your authoritarian regime,” but he continued on his way without offering any response.

As Dictator Chun had continued to deny the massacre in Gwangju throughout the court hearing and striving to escape away from the Justice, one citizen was ejected from the courtroom after asking in protest, “Who killed the people of Gwangju, then?” As Chun was emerging from the courtroom after the hearing at around, a Gwangju citizen hurled an egg at him and demanded that he apologize. Without giving a response, Chun entered his vehicle and quickly departed from Gwangju District Court.

While the hearing was taking place, members of the May Mothers’ Association, civil society members, students and people of Gwangju stood outside the courthouse dressed in mourning clothes, singing the song “March for the Beloved” and demanding an apology. Members of May 18-related groups also staged a subdued protest rally, which included a performance in which a toy hammer was used to strike a statue of a kneeling Chun. In April 2017, the May 18 Memorial Foundation and others filed a criminal suit against Cho accusing him of defamation of the late Cho Pius. The Gwangju District Prosecutors’ Office indicted Chun without detention in May 2018. The soul of the martyrs of the May 18 Democratic Uprising is demanding justice and peace. However, today the whole Gwangju and Korea are witnessed and accept the injustice and massacre in Gwangju. However, Dictator Chun is continuously trying to escape from justice, but the May 18 Spirit will keep pursuing him for justice.

The May 18 Mothers

The History of Democratization Movement in Korea

As we are closer to the 40th Anniversary of the May Democratic Uprising 1980. Therefore, the May 18 Memorial Foundation is delighted to share the soft copy of our Book named “The History of Democratization Movement in Korea”. This book is designed to help and understand Korea’s democratic transition more easily and correctly while providing insight into its present democracy and society. It sheds new light onto the historic inevitability of Korea’s democracy by tracing major developments in each period and historical facts behind them. It also addresses both the achievements and the limitations of democratic consolidation that have proceeded since 1987, as well as future challenges for Korean democracy. If you are interested please download your copy through browsing given link.

Call for Nominations for the 2020 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

The May 18 Memorial Foundation is pleased to announce the call for Call for Nominations for the 2020 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

Call for 2020 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

1. The Gwangju Prize for Human Rights (GPHR)

About the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

To promote the spirit of the May 18 Democratization Movement, in which the people of Gwangju resisted brutal military forces for the sake of democracy and human rights in 1980, the May 18 Memorial Foundation recognizes the exemplary efforts of individuals and organizations aspiring to the restoration of justice and human rights in their respective countries through the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Prize. Since 2000, the Foundation has been bestowing the ‘Gwangju Prize for Human Rights’ to individuals, groups and institutions in Korea and abroad that have contributed in promoting and advancing human rights, democracy and peace in their work. 

The prize is awarded by the citizens of Gwangju in the spirit of solidarity and gratitude to those who have helped them in their struggle for democratization and their search for truth. It is hoped that through this Award, the spirit and message of May 18 will be immortalized in the hearts and minds of humankind.  

Qualified Nominators

A nomination for the GPHR can be submitted by any individual or organization who meets the nomination criteria. Any nomination is considered valid if itis submitted by a person or an organization that falls within one of the following categories:

1.Individuals or organizations who won the May 18 Citizens Award and/or YunSang-won Award

2.Laureates of Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

3.Organizations in Korea or overseas working for human rights, peace, and the reunification of Korea that have been active three years or more and that the May 18 Memorial Foundation Directorate decides to request their nomination

4.Any individual or organization in Korea or overseas that agrees on the purpose of the GPHR

Candidacy Criteria

The candidates eligible for the GPHR are those persons or organizations nominated by a qualified individual or a qualified organization. A nomination of oneself-will not be taken into consideration. For more information please visit this link

Selection of the GPHR

The May 18 Memorial Foundation is responsible for the selection of eligible candidates and the choice of the GPHR. The selection committee is composed of seven members who are designated by the May 18 Memorial Foundation’s Articles of Association. The rest of the procedure will abide by the Articles of Association.


Submission Period: November 1 ~ November 30, 2019.

Required Submission Documents

i)   Nomination Form (download the attachment)  

ii)  Two ID Photos (paste them on the designated spots)

iii)  Other materials that can substantiate activities and eligibility for the award 

iv)  Send all documents via E-mail to

The GPHR Award Prize

The winner of the GPHR will receive a certificate, a medal, and cash award of $ 50,000 USD.

Submission Confirmation

An email confirming the receipt and validity of the submitted nomination will be sent out to the nominator once the submission is complete.

For more information, please visit or email to

The May 18 Foundation on a Mission: Foundation Kicked Off “5.18 TV” YouTube Channel to Counter Fake News and Prevent Distortion History of the May 18 Uprising

Recently, the expansion of internet and online social media platforms have been triggered in circulation of “Fake News” all around the world. Social networks are popular platform for fake news and in result they are fertile ground for the spread of fake news in worldwide. Fake news are also causing serious threat to human rights activism and civil society organization. Presently, the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising is also facing this global threat of fake news and attempts of distortion the history of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising by debauched elements in Korea. 

The Uprising of 1980 also referred to as the “May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement” that is considered as foundation of democratization and milestone in Korean modern democracy. The struggles of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising encouraged the pro-democratic forces to encompass their fight nationwide and spread the true democratic regime in Korea. In June 1987, students Uprising in Seoul finally defeated the dictatorship and restored true democracy in Korea.

However, the work regarding transitional justice and reconciliation after the Gwangju Uprising started thirty-nine years ago and still continues in Korea. The truth that regarding the uprising has is very crystal that it was people’s pro-democracy movements that led by the students and people of Gwangju in 1980.

In contrast, few individuals are still supporting the immoral notion of pro-junta regime in 1980.  These individuals are still constantly striving to distort the history of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising through their online propaganda and spreading fake news against the history of the Uprising.

Before discussing other issues, it is essential to understand the true definition of fake news. According to various academicians that a “Fake news” is information that has been deliberately fabricated and disseminated to deceive and mislead others into believing falsehoods or doubting verifiable facts. Presently, few rogue individuals from conservatives side are continually attempting to distort the history of the May 18 Gwangju Uprising and deceitfully calling it “Monstrous Group” without any legality or prove. Therefore, the May 18 Memorial Foundation challenges such delusion and committed to countering this very bogus narrative through multiple ways for example legally and socially to prevent distortion the history of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising.  

From 2013 there is various “Fake News Youtube channel”, and online materials are deliberately circulating with conspiracy theories and disinformation against the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising. The purpose of such false news are to systematically distorts the honour and prestige of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising and sacrifices of their martyrs.

In response of such disinformation, the Foundation took very significant efforts and continuously engaging with various stakeholder, for example with legal teams, Gwangju Metropolitan Government and civil society organization nationally to end fake news against the Uprising. Secondly, the Foundation has been launched a particular “5.18 YouTube channel” in the Korean language to share valid and transparent information regarding the May 18 Uprising to the common  people of the Korea and counter bogus attempts regarding distortion the history of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising. Currently, the Foundation has been uploaded related videos on its “5.18” YouTube channel in the Korean language to disseminate the facts and to counter the fake news against the reality. Now you can watch valid information on our 5.18 Youtube channel. In last kindly, we request you that please visit and subscribe our Youtube channel to obtain correct information. Please, browse this information through this link ‘ ‘.

The May 18 Memorial Foundation International Intern Ms Gianna Francesca M. Catolico from Philippine successfully completed her Internship Tenure

International Intern Ms Gianna Francesca M. Catolico

International Intern Ms Gianna Francesca M. Catolico from the Philippines successfully completed her one-year internship at the May 18 Memorial Foundation and returned to home on 26th August 2019.

The May 18 Memorial Foundation appreciated Ms Gianna Francesca M. Catolico on her remarkable work during her stay at the Foundation at Gwangju.  During her stay at Foundation Ms Gianna help the Foundation in publication of English webzine “MayZine”, including editing contents, updating Gwangju Human Rights Award page on Wikipedia, Foundation website, English social media management, Foundation’s major international events of years example Gwangju Asia Forum 2019, 2018/19 the May 18 Academy, and 2018 Asian Charter Workshop in Indonesia. She also did interview Ms Joanna Gwangju Human Rights Laureates and published in Gwangju News. The Foundation wishing her best of luck for her bright future and keep standing with the May 18 Spirit. 

Gwangju Democratization Uprising: It is Time to Move Forward and Spread the Spirit of the May 18 in World

Recently Korea has marked the 39th anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Uprising, but it is yet to settle the bloodiest past. It is highly relevant and meaningful to commemorate the May 18 Democratic Uprising movement that sowed the seeds of modern democracy and freedom of expression in the Republic of Korea. However, it is unfortunate to see that Korean politics is still dividing the ordinary people for their political mean over the pro-democracy struggle by citizens of Gwangju on May 18, 1980.

 President Moon Jae-in very straightforwardly said in his the May 18 commemoration speech stated that “the truth about the May 18 Democratization Movement cannot differ between conservatives and progressives”. Besides, he also said that “only the pro tyrant would see it differently”. President’s speech remarks a warning to an unabashed bid by the conservative opposition party who defame the May 18 Uprising movement and defame the victims of a bloody military crackdown.

 There is no single reason for us to deny the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Movement and sacrifices of the May 18 martyrs for the people of Korea. As we know that a series of government investigations and neutral foreign citizens testified that the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising was purely students and public Uprising who rose up against the General Chun Doo-hwan-led military junta and did struggle for democratisation.

 Even previous Korean legislative work was also done to define the significance and nature of the Gwangju democratic uprising. In addition, the Gwangju movement was officially declared as the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Uprising to reinstate honour of the May 18 martyrs. Furthermore, a special law was also enacted under the administration of President Kim Young-sam to restore the honour of the May 18 victims. In 1997, the May 18 Day was designated as a special national memorial day in Korea, and all Korean presidents attended the May 18 commemoration day at National Cemetery Gwangju.

In contrast, some political parties and individuals are continually struggling to divide the nation on this particular issue for their political and self-interests without an understanding of sacrifices of the May 18 martyrs, pain and trauma of bereaved families who lost their beloved and meaning of transitional justice.

Therefore, it is now time to shed more light on the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising which is spreading its Spirit in Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and all over the world. Thus, we urge all the political parties and common public to fully cooperate with the present administration to have free and fair investigation commission against the brutality of the tyrant. The rival parties should go beyond partisanship and support the imperial investigations all allegations like as secret burials of victims, sexual violence and the firing from helicopters on the May 18 victims. It is time to settle the past with great honour and honour the May 18 Spirit. Most importantly, that entire nation ought to make concrete efforts to move toward harmony, reconciliation and honour the sacrifices of the May 18 victims who sacrificed their beloved lives for the future of Korea. Only then can people of Korean may able to grateful what they owe to more than 200 Gwangju citizens who sacrificed their lives for the future of Korea freedom and democracy 39 years ago at Gwangju and awakened the whole nation.

The May 18 Memorial Foundation Welcomes New GNMP Cohort 2019

GNMP Cohort 2019 Ms Chan Hoi Yee from Hong Kong, Mr Md Omar Farok from Bangladesh and Fatima from Jordan

The May 18 Memorial Foundation under commitment of the May 18 capacity-building project annually offering highly generous education scholarship to young human right activist all around the world. This year three young human right activists have selected in this multidisciplinary course known as Global NGO Master’s Program (GNMP) is a master’s degree offered by the May 18 Institute at the Chonnam National University in Gwangju, with a full scholarship granted by the May 18 Memorial Foundation. It is a four-semester two-year program. The GNMP is intended for the people who have been contributing or have the potential to contribute to leading social progress in Asia-Africa.

The new GNMP students are Ms Fatima Mohammad from Jordan, Mr Md Omar Farok from Bangladesh and Ms Chan Hoi Yee from Hong Kong for year 2019/2020 to the beginning of the fall semester and this Master course will complete in two years.
In their first visit, the Foundation team organised a short orientation to the newcomers. They interacted with the team members of the Foundation, including Secretary-General Mr Lee Gibong and Director of the International Affairs Department Ms.You Inrae. They also made a short tour of the different departments of the Foundation.

Group Photo: GNMP Students 2017-2018 and 2019

The GNMP capacity building program was started in 2016 as a theoretical and practical educational platform for international sharing and expanding of the Spirit and experiences of the May 18 Gwangju Civilian Movement on site. The GNMP works closely with the May 18 Memorial Foundation in Gwangju, the official body commemorating the democratic struggle in Gwangju on May 18, 1980, and the students have an excellent chance to know and trace the May 18 Spirit and history of democracy movement of Korea. For this purpose, the program provides the foreign students with a generous scholarship opportunity, capacity building workshops, local internships and a living stipend.

The two batches of GNMP have completed their graduation and now actively contributing to field human rights, democratisation and peacebuilding efforts in their respective countries. Currently, the program has seven students from Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Jordan and Hong Kong.

Congratulations to GNMP Cohort 2017 for Successfully Completion their Graduation

Ms Lee Suk Pei from Malaysia and Mia Rosmiati from Indonesia

Recently the GNMP Chorot 2017/18 have completed their Master’s Degree in August 2019. The Two Students Ms Lee Suk Pei from Malaysia and Mia Rosmiati from Indonesia completed their graduation from the Chonnam National University. The May 18 Memorial Foundation warmly congratulate them and wish them best of luck for their great future ahead and extending its support for their activism in the field of human rights, democratisation and peacebuilding efforts in their countries. Let’s keep spreading and standing with the May 18 Spirit where ever you and live.

GNMP Ms Lee Suk Pei from Malaysia and Mia Rosmiati from Indonesia

The GNMP program started in 2016 and it is a theoretical and practical educational platform for international sharing and expanding of the spirit and experiences of MAY 18 Gwangju Civilian Movement on site. The GNMP works closely with the May 18 Memorial Foundation in Gwangju, the official body commemorating the democratic struggle in Gwangju on May 18, 1980, and the students have an excellent chance to know and trace the spirit and history of democracy movement of Korea. We aim at strengthening democratic civil society through NGO workers’ global networking and solidarity across borders. For this purpose, the program provides foreign students with an excellent scholarship opportunity and a living stipend.

Gwangju Spirit: The Gwangju Laureate Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit from Thailand Honored with the Magsaysay Award 2019

Ms Angkhana Neelapaijit was born in Bangkok, Thailand and did her graduate work at the Faculty of Nursing, Mahidol University Salaya Thailand. Before her human rights activism, she was living a happy life with her husband in Bangkok. Ms Angkhana became transformed into a human rights activist when her husband, Mr Somchai Neelapaijit, who was a prominent human rights lawyer in Bangkok was abducted by a group of police officers in March 12, 2004. 

The unexpected enforce disappearance of her husband turned her happy life into a painful journey and took her on an arduous path which she never thought she would be able to travel. From a caring housewife, looking after her husband and five children, she turned into a fearless defender of human rights, working tirelessly for the return of her husband and supporting many other individuals whose rights were violated. Due to her fearless and vigorous effort, Ms Angkhana Neelapaijit has been attacked and has received multiple death threats.

In April 2006, the May 18 Memorial Foundation recognized her fearless human rights struggle, commitment, and dedication by nominating her for the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. For Ms Angkhana Neelapaijit, the Gwangju Prize was the first award to acknowledge her sincere efforts and which enhanced her confidence and also brought her into the circle of renowned international human rights defenders.

Ms Angkhana founded the Justice for Peace Foundation a human rights organization in Thailand and started working persistently to help the victims of human rights abuses in Thailand. The mission to protect human rights made her one of Thailand’s most prominent women human rights defenders.

The Gwangju Prize for Human Rights provided her with the moral and monetary support when she was fighting against her husband’s enforced disappearance in court. Besides this, the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights also opened new international human rights platforms and avenues for her. In 2006, she won the “Women Human Rights Defender” prize honoured by the European Parliament. On 2010, she was honoured with the “De Chevalier De I’Ordre de la Le’gion d’Honneur” award from the French President. On July 2013, she was also honoured by the UN as “Women of Achievement”.    

In 2015, she was nominated as the Human Right Commissioner in Thailand, and she has worked fearlessly for the promotion of human rights in Thailand. However, in July 2019, she resigned from her position due to the hindrances she encountered by the Junta.

On August 2019, shortly after her resignation, she was nominated for the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2019. However, even with all these human rights awards, her struggle is more vigorous and vibrant than ever against injustices and human rights violations in Thailand. Overall, it shows that the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights is spreading the May 18 Spirit and providing moral support to these humble souls who are standing against all these injustices and human rights violations all around the world. 

From Criminal to Heroine: Telling Untold Stories of Women who Galvanized Gwangju

For decades women human rights activists have been actively participating in social movements and playing a vibrant role for protection of human rights. Women social activist from all over the world proved that they are not socially inferior to their male counterpart but are real change agents who are always standing against social injustice globally.

In the 20th century women social activist played a vibrant role in achieving the right to vote. In 1913 American women social activists performed advocacy, struggled, and faced various injustices but, in the end, they gained women suffrage.

Ms. Jeon Choon-shim shwoing Picture of 518 Gwangju Democratic Uprising

On May 18, 1980, women of Gwangju did not remain as submissive victims in the Uprising but played vigorous roles as agents of resistance by printing news bulletins, issuing admission tickets for the public, gathering essential information, sharing with respective designers, broadcasting public massages, participating in negotiations, and motivated common public opinion for the Gwangju Uprising. Gwangju housewives voluntarily collected rice and did fundraising for the Uprising. Gwangju prostitutes appeared in hospitals and donated blood for the injured citizen.

During the ten days of the Uprising, women like Jeon Choon-shim played a historical role in the Uprising. Choon-shim was the youngest and beloved child of her family. And her father was the police chief of Yooleumyun, Bosung. She always remained active in social movements and was a dance teacher in Gimje, Gwangju. It is the untold story of a girl who was known as a heroine of Gwangju by citizens but military intelligence agents labeled her as a “Spy” for North Korea.

A Voice that Roared and Awakened Gwangju

Today, in developed countries and in South Korea young people take democracy for granted but, in contrast, 1980 authoritarianism was fully in-charge along with all of its brutalities in South Korea. Jeon Choon-Shim could have lived a peaceful life if she listened to the advice of a taxi driver who told her that “If you go there (Gwangju) now, you will be killed by the paratroopers”. But she took a bold stance and decided to visit Gwangju to uncover the truth.

“When I arrived at Chungjang Street, I was shocked to see the shoes of citizens and students who had run away and were beaten by paratroopers like a dog,” said Choon-shim. “I was so furious seeing this injustice that I immediately participated in the demonstration.” It shows that she couldn’t believe that Korean soldiers were torturing and killing their own people.

The regime paratroopers and citizens of Gwangju called her a heroine of the Uprising. Before the Uprising she knew nothing about making any motivational speeches, but May 18 changed her life and gave birth to a natural orator. Her voice was full of appeal, and she started broadcasting the messages using an amplifier that she purchased with her savings throughout the city . She was the main speaker, and her magical voiced so fascinated several people that they joined the resistance. Due to her magical and motivational voice, military intelligence agents code-named her “Peony Flower”.

A Representative for Peace Negotiation

On May 21, 1980, when she was broadcasting she heard that two dead bodies were found at Gwangju train station and she took both dead bodies in a handcart to the provincial Hall Gwangju. She showed both dead bodies to a military colonel in Gwangju and asked the colonel who killed them. The colonel replied “Where did you get them? We didn’t kill them. A spy did”. There she negotiated with the military and people allowed her. “I asked the Colonel to let me meet with the martial law commander, and he asked me to go inside the Provincial Hall. I coordinated with citizens and asked them “Do you want me to go inside and talk with commander”, and the people agreed. She met with the Gwangju Governor and negotiated with him.

She urged the Governor first to pull the army out of Gwangju because the citizens are scarred. Secondly, she asked to share update information about how many students were arrested and their status. Third, she asked to make accurate and impartial media reports about the Gwangju situation.

Also, she rescued soldiers and police officers who were captured by the citizens. She urged citizen that “they are the same as us and we have to protect their rights”. 

The struggle of Jeon Choon-shim revealed Gwangju women’s courage and strength. Even though the martial law army committed violence, sexually assaulted and killed many women she was firmly standing against injustice for all during the Uprising and never gave up fighting.

From Speaker to Victim of Bloody Torture

On May 24, 1980, Choon-shim was grabbing a megaphone from a jeep to cry out, “Fellow citizens, join us. How can you sleep? The soldiers are killing our brothers and sisters. Let’s fight together until the end!” Several people heard the pain of her voice as the regime forces stormed the Gwangju provincial hall and suppressed the Gwangju Democratic Uprising.

She had several tormenting stories, such as – “At one point I was in a stationary car. I was eating a strawberry and a bullet flew past and killed the car’s driver. Since then she has never eaten strawberries”.

On May 27 Choon-shim was arrested by police after the Uprising was ended by regime troops. She was subjected to brutal psychological, physical, and water torture for weeks. The military Intelligence agents accused her of being a “North Korean Spy” with the secret code name ‘Peony Flower”. Choon-shim shared her painful memories: “They beat me severely, pricked my knees, and my body was torn. They forced me to defecate in open ground before soldiers, and it was a humiliation”. Due to the torture, she was internally bleeding and so they transferred her to Yangmin Hospital. She was then sentenced to 15 years. But she never retreated and the following year she filed an appeal at the higher court and received a special pardon. But in reality, she was never pardoned and forgiven by the regime: “I could not got a decent job in my life, and whenever I got a job, I was fired after a few days for no reason”.

Beloved to Street Laundry Girl

Once released from jail, she temporally stayed with her brother. Later, she went to Seoul in 1983 and got a dance teacher job for a short time. However, after a few months, the owner of the dance institute asked her to leave because the National Security Department was making trouble for him. Choon-shim went through miserable days, and she ran a vending cart, did laundry for bargirls, and lived in a damp basement room.

“These agents some time took pity on me and laughed on me, saying that a heroine of Gwangju should not live like this. If you cooperate a little with us, we will make you rich”. But she never submitted and stood with a strong will to overcome her physical, physiological, and financial situation.

Once Again a Heroine of Gwangju

After the June Democracy Movement in 1987 shook the military regime of Korea, the truth was disclosed before ordinary people of Korea. The Korean democratic government held a legal trial of military tyrants about the massacre that took place in Gwangju, and they found the regime guilty. The leader of the regime served detention and surrendered themselves to human rights and democratisation.

Though life has not been easy for Choon-shim and she still feels great sadness, trauma, and pain about what happened in Gwangju, she is proud that she never surrendered to the tyranny. She is living in Seoul with her family, but the Uprising in Gwangju radically changed the meaning of life for her. People of Gwangju still consider her as a heroine of Gwangju and never forgot her speeches during the May 18 Democratic struggle.

After experiencing such great sacrifices, trauma, deaths, and brutality, the people of Gwangju proudly stand with the May 18 Spirit. The city of Gwangju is now known as the city of human rights and democratisation in Korea.

Meanwhile, the role of women in the Uprising was highly vibrant, but it was not adequately documented due to various factors. The first factor was to keep them safe from atrocities by the brutal regime. Secondly, most women remained silent due to their physical and psychological trauma. Thirdly, the activities of women were never considered as unlawful so these were not fully documented.

However, presently the May 18 Memorial Foundation is tangibly documenting the role of women during the May 18 Democratic Uprising, publishing a book entitled the “May 18 Democratic Uprising and Women”. The book documents the role of women, resistance, and their post-traumatic situation. In other words, the women’s experience during the May 18 Uprising has become a kind of catalyst that has awakened them to a new way of living.

Unsung Heroes of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising

Unsung Hero of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising 1980: Respected Mr. Kang Gil Jo

Around 39 years ago, the city of Gwangju faced a bloody massacre by their motherland soldiers. Students, citizens, women and elderly people of Gwangju stood shoulder to shoulder against the brutal military regime of General Chun Du-hwan in 1980. Historically, citizens of Gwangju chanted a slogan to end martial law in Korea, and they marked their history with blood. Lamentably, the repressive military regime of General Chun insanely killed and arrested innocent hundreds of citizens of Gwangju. However, the Gwangju spirit finally defeated the brutal military regime and made it immortal.

Presently, many people around the world know the struggle of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic uprising, but only a few are sentient about the real characters who stood without any personal greed and dispassionately provided humanitarian assistance to victims of Gwangju massacre.  

Chonnam National University and Gumnamno road were the core areas of the Uprising. Many battles took place between barehanded citizens and trained military paratroopers on these localities. The Gwangju Uprising left several untold stories, sacrifices and sad memories in Gwangju. After, Uprising, several unsung and brave heroes lived in the secreted and faced trauma.

Unfortunately, many of us are unaware of these real heroes of Uprising who are still committed with the May 18 Spirit and suffering from psychological trauma due to inhuman treatment by the military regime. These heroes were not an extraordinary person, but they were an ordinary citizen from Gwangju who valiantly, gallantly and voluntarily stood with victims of the Gwangju massacre and among them, Kang Gil Jo is also one who presently lived in Gwangju.

On May 18, 1980, when armed troops surrounded Gwangju, medical services were stopped, and ambulances were not allowed to rescue the injured. In this critical situation, Kang Gil Jo stalwartly and fearlessly used his car and transported Uprising citizens and saved their lives.

On May 18, in front of the Chonnam University gate, students were battling with paratroopers, and I had witnessed that many students were severely injured and they need immediate medical support. Therefore, I decided that these are my son and son of Gwangju. I will not let them die. And, I took my car and helped students to escape and transported them through to safe places.

Because he had a car, the regime soldiers mistook him for a student leader; they smashed the windows of the car and pulled him out. “The soldiers beat me until I lost my consciousness”, said by Kang. “When I woke up, I was on a very slowly moving military truck, and there were several lifeless bodies stapled on top of me. The truck was completely sealed off, and some soldiers sprinkled teargas powder into the truck and amused themselves as they watched the prisoners suffer in agony. “I tried to breathe; my eyes were burning”, Kang retorted.

“After arriving at Gwangju Prison, I saw that there were many dead bodies on the truck”. There was a mock execution done by the regime troops. Life in Gwangju Prison was hell. The prisoners were tortured and systematically dehumanized by regime troops. Soldiers behave like monsters, and they psychologically tortured our souls every day. They don’t provide us with water and food for several days. We were a hungry, thirsty, weak and faced mental breakdown. They treat us insanely, and even I scared to think these horrible memories.

Furthermore, Kang Gil Jo testified that “We appealed for water after having no water for several days. A paratrooper said, ‘Give them piss’. A soldier relieved himself in a glass and handed it to us. One of the citizens grabbed it and drank as if he were drinking cold water. We were no longer human beings; we were animals. We ate and went to the bathroom amidst corpses. We had to crawl to the toilet one by one and come back with excrements on our tongues”.

These exact facts and proved that how our own military regime treated our citizen brutally and dreadfully even worst then Vietcong. Besides, it also shows how Gwangju citizen brotherhood to stand side by side with each other in the dejected situation and never hides against a brutal regime. Kang could be runaway, left and remain unruffled, but he decided to stand against immoralities and with righteous.

Finally, history is witnessed that brutal military regime had died with the Spirit of the May 18 and the real voice of people like Kong are fully roaring and sharing the Gwangju Spirit with ordinary people. On May 18, Kang, several former civil resistant heroes and proud citizens of Gwangju gathered at Gumnamno in Gwangju to commemorate their promise that the people of Gwangju will never surrender against any tyrant and will keep resisting against those who are slandering the May 18 Spirit. The citizens of Gwangju and people of Korea are unanimously standing with the May 18 Spirit, and they will not be allowed any insular self-centred individuals to disparage the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising in Korea.