|Policemen carry the body of Park Won-soon who was found dead in northern Seoul early Friday. / Yonhap|
Park says 'sorry to everyone' in suicide note
By Kim Se-jeong
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, a former human rights lawyer with a long record of defending women, was discovered dead in an apparent suicide early Friday, two days after his secretary filed a sexual harassment complaint against him.
The reason for his action is not yet known but it is presumed that Park, who was seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2022, killed himself because of undue pressure following the complaint. An investigation is under way to discover what drove him to kill himself.
A police search team found his body near Sukjeong Gate, the northern gate of the old city walls on Mount Bugak, one minute after midnight. Police said that he was found in a state that seems to suggest that he committed suicide.
According to the complaint filed with the police in Seoul, Wednesday, the harassment began in 2017, with him hugging the victim and groping her body in his office. She said she had also received obscene images and messages from him through Telegram and that he had demanded her send pictures as well.
The victim wrote she had reached out to colleagues for help but didn't receive any and mentioned that she knew other victims in the city government who were too afraid to do anything. She quit her job recently and sought psychiatric treatment and counseling before filing the complaint.
In what seemed to be a suicide note unveiled by the city authorities Friday, Park wrote: "Thank you everyone with whom I shared my life. To my family, I am deeply sorry for causing so much pain. Please cremate my body and spread my ashes on my parents' graves."
According to the Seoul Metropolitan Police, Park's body was found in the forested hills near his official residence, seven hours after his daughter filed a missing person report at 5:17 p.m. Thursday. She said the mayor left a message to his family that sounded like his "last words" before he left home.
His death came as a shock not only to those in political circles but also Seoul residents because Park, a longtime civic activist and a member of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, had been regarded as a potential candidate for the 2022 presidential election.
Park, who became the first Seoul mayor elected for a third consecutive term in June 2018, unveiled a variety of measures to tackle growing social and economic divisions with a focus on young people, the environment and urban regeneration ― which have been widely appreciated by middle- and low-income households.
With Park's death, Seo Jeong-hyup, the first vice mayor for administrative affairs, under the law, will serve as acting mayor until a by-election slated for April 7, 2021.
"We pray for the soul of the deceased and extend our deepest condolences to the residents. City affairs will firmly continue according to Mayor Park Won-soon's values that prioritized stability and welfare," Vice Mayor Seo said during a press briefing.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to hold a civic funeral for Park and run on contingency plans for the time being. It said that Park's funeral will be held after a mourning period of five days ― generally this lasts for three days.
A memorial altar will be set up in front of City Hall in central Seoul for residents and staff members wanting to pay their respects to Park, they added.
The late mayor had made his name as a human rights lawyer, especially representing sexual harassment victims.
Between 1993 and 1999, he defended a teaching assistant from Seoul National University who sued her professor for sexual harassment, in a symbolic case which marked the first to be filed and which also raised awareness of the issue in Korean society. He won the case after a six-year fight.
In 2000, Park represented Korean victims of sexual slavery at the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery, a tribunal organized by a women's rights NGO, and argued the case made by them.