South Korean Human Rights Monitor

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[Opinion] Now Showing Suicidal Performance! WHAT?!

Soo Yon Suh August 2, 2013

Now and then I hear bizarre stories but the recent death of Sung Jae Ki, the president of Men of Korea, pretty much topped the ones I heard thus far. Man of Korea (MOK), a non-profit male rights group, was in tremendous debt and in need of a financial resolution. MOK president, Mr. Sung, announced via twitter and the group’s website that he will make a jump off a bridge on the Han River in return for financial pledges. More specifically, he indicated he would “risk his life in order to attract 100 million won ($89,970) in donations” to pay off the agency’s debt.

The Han River is no kiddie river, its one of the major rivers that runs through Korea. Although not a very long one, it is 175 meters wide and approximately 2.5 meters deep. At the time of the scheduled stunt Korea was in the middle of monsoon season so it was only natural that the depth of the water was probably double the average and the current fatal. I think it is safe to conclude with a small dose of rational thought it was in no way safe. What am I saying?! When is it EVER safe to jump off a bridge into a river?

Mr. Sung did not disclosed the location, time, and date of the jump claiming he did not want to take away the authorities from potentially saving other lives being preoccupied with  his stunt. Despite the opposition and outcries from the public and his colleagues in the civil advocacy community, Mr. Sung made the fatal jump anyway on Friday July 26.

Mr. Sung’s response to his surroundings attempts to stop him brought into question his mental state when he questioned why they thought that he would not survive. Rather, he confidently claimed that he is sure that he will make it out alive.

The story gets weirder, at the time of the jump there were three witnesses! Present on the bridge was a Seoul news reporter and two of his colleagues from MOK filming the stunt as it happened! Immediately upon the jump, Mr. Sung went missing. All came to a tragic end after four days of underwater search of the Han River when his body was finally found on the 30th of July.

When I think of this incident I become very confused. I feel for the guy and respect his passion for a cause but at the same time can’t help but criticize him. There are so many moral and ethical wrongs with this case. Of all the attention grabbing stunts in the world, like sticking your head in a gigantic alligator, why oh why do you choose during monsoon season to jump off a bridge in the Han River. The BRIDGE on the HAN RIVER, the very location where numerous  suicides happen? On top of that IN a country that sports the number one suicide rates in the world? In a COUNTRY where suicide is a serious issue more so when adolescent suicide is rapidly escalating. It pains me, rather makes me sick to my stomach, that initially this act was for merely a “performance” to raise money. What kind of message are we sending here?

Also, I really question the ethics and morals of the news reporter and coworkers that were present when Mr. Sung jumped. Obviously everyone there on that bridge was hit with the stupid stick, did it not occur to them that what Mr. Sung was attempting here may actually most probably will lead to his eminent death? Why did nobody DO anything about it? Like force him to jump with a make shift rope at the LEAST just in case something goes wrong? More realistically, maybe get him some counseling? Are we that drunk on sensationalism? Have we lost all common sense to get that next big story? Well they got what they wished at a high price.

This was a bizarre tragedy at its best. Maybe Mr. Sung was suicidal. Like a fish out of water, maybe this was his last resort screaming at the top of his lungs trying to tell the world that he needs help. When all he needed was someone to listen and lend a helping hand. Many ways we chose to ignore him and simply criticize him. Although, I may not agree with him I do admire Mr. Sung’s passion for a cause.  MOK was all his life and he was willing to do anything to fight for it and that is a laudable. He was a true passionate human rights defender and for that I do salute him. I only regret that maybe there were other ways he could have approached this situation. Maybe if even within the human rights community a bit more solidarity among ourselves this would have been prevented.

About Author

Soo Yon Suh

Soo is currently a program coordinator at the Korea Human Rights Foundation (KHRF) managing the Asia Democracy Network and HRM. She has been with KRHF since 2010 starting as a research fellow managing and developing the HRM project. Soo grew up in Chicago, Illinois, received her Bachelor's in Political Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago and her Master's in Korean for Professionals (NSEP Korean Language Flagship) from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. View all posts by Soo Yon Suh →

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