Namdaemun arsonist gets 10-year sentence
April 27, 2008
SEOUL — The man who burned down Namdaemun, the 610-year-old gate in the heart of Seoul, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Friday, court spokesman Ma Yong-ju said.
Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Chae Jong-gi, 69, to 12 years in prison for the Feb. 10 fire. Chae pleaded guilty to charges of arson and destroying a national treasure.
Judge Lee Kyoung-choon said he gave Chae a heavy sentence because of the “indescribable mental pain” South Koreans experienced at the loss of the gate. The loss of Namdaemun also caused the nation’s prestige to fall, he said.
Police have said Chae has admitted to setting the fire because he was angry at the government over a land dispute.
Chae has one week to appeal his sentence.
Namdaemun had survived the Japanese occupation, the Korean War and Seoul’s transformation from a war-torn city into one of the world’s largest cities. Japanese colonizers closed the gate in 1907 to lay a railroad track through it.
South Korea restored it in the early 1960s, named it the country’s No. 1 treasure in 1962 and reopened it to the public in 2006. The gate is about a mile from U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan, home of the U.S. military’s headquarters in South Korea.