The Truth Foundation was established in 2009 by ordinary South Koreans who had been tortured and imprisoned under fabricated charges of spying for communist North Korea, but whose convictions were later overturned. The reparations they received from the government became the seed money for the Foundation.
Under the military regimes of President Pak Chung-hee and President Chun Doo-hwan, the fear of North Korea and communism was manipulated to legitimize political oppression and control over a population that still carried the trauma of war with the communist North. It was in this setting that the most vulnerable members of South Korean society, including illiterate fishermen who worked off the coast of the border areas, found themselves suddenly taken from their homes and families by the security apparatus of the South Korean state. Detained in isolation and interrogated without legal counsel, they were tortured until they “confessed” to spying. These “confessions” were then used to obtain their convictions by prosecutors and the judiciary who, beholden to the military regime in power and charged with upholding unjust laws, failed to stop this massive miscarriage of justice.
To be imprisoned for being a North Korean spy, was to become a pariah in South Korean society, at a time when even suspicion of such activity or any association with a person suspected of such activity meant harassment by the state and hardship caused by discrimination. It was a stigma that tainted not just the individual accused, but the entire family and even their relatives.
For over 20 to 30 years, the falsely accused have carried not only the physical and psychological scars of torture, but have also had to bear the pain of poverty and social alienation as a convicted “North Korean spy,” despite their innocence. However, through the long and difficult process of correcting this past injustice and successfully challenging their convictions, they experienced the power of truth that endures and ultimately prevails.
It was this experience, which became the impetus to establish the Foundation and to play a part in ensuring that the same horror is never repeated and help other torture survivors both in Korea and in other countries. In this regard, the falsely accused recall what a source of strength and comfort it was to them when they received messages of support while in prison, particularly those of strangers from other countries.