Park Won-soon death: Tributes pour in for former Seoul mayor, raising concerns alleged harassment victim could be criticised

·2-min read
Seoul City Government/AFP via Ge
Seoul City Government/AFP via Ge

The death of the mayor of Seoul has triggered public mourning that some fear could lead to criticism of the woman he is alleged to have sexually harassed.

Park Won-soon, 64, was found dead in a wooded area in the north of South Korea’s capital on Friday morning local time, hours after leaving a “will-like” message with his daughter.

Police have refused to disclose the cause of death, but said there was no sign of foul play.

Park’s body was taken to Seoul National University Hospital, where five days of funeral proceedings began.

Hundreds of mourners visited a specially set up altar, and supporters cried and shouted phrases including “we love you” and “we are sorry”.

Politicians linked to the governing Democratic Party and senior presidential officials visited the funeral hall. Photos show flowers bearing the president’s name placed there.

However, critics have raised concerns about the public outpouring of sorrow amid reports that one of Park’s secretaries filed a police complaint against him on Wednesday night. The woman alleged that he had sexually harassed her since 2017.

Police confirmed a complaint against Park had been filed but declined to provide further detail – including over whether the complaint was about sexual behaviour.

Yi Han Sang of Korea University condemned the Seoul city government for planning to use official funds for Park’s funeral next week.

The professor urged the government to stop acts that could lead to public criticism of the alleged victim, and instead think about how to protect her and find out the truth.

Ryu Ho-jeong of the small liberal opposition Justice Party wrote on Facebook that she would not pay respects to Park because she does not want the alleged victim to “feel lonely”.

The death of Seoul’s mayor and the allegations against him have left South Korea in shock, with questions being raised about his image.

Park – a former human rights lawyer who won his country’s first sexual harassment conviction in 1998 – described himself as a feminist, and was a vocal supporter of women’s rights and the #MeToo movement.

As mayor, a post he had served in since 2011, he appointed a special advisor on gender equality and introduced policies aimed at designing safer urban environments for women and providing affordable housing for working single women.

He was seen by many in the capital as a potential presidential candidate when current leader Moon Jae-in’s five-year term ends in 2022.

Additional reporting by agencies

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