Prosecutors have appealed a judge’s decision not to imprison a man found guilty of killing 600 cats by boiling them alive, sources said Thursday.
On April 6, Judge Park Jeong-hoon of Changwon District Court sentenced the perpetrator, whose surname is Jeong, to 80 hours community service and 10 months imprisonment suspended for two years.
Jeong was found guilty of violating both the Animal Protection Act and the Food Sanitation Act.
Kim Era, head of the Korea Alliance for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (KAPCA), is among the activists calling for a heavier punishment for the serial cat killer.
“The ruling was too lenient,” Kim stressed, saying she expected him to receive a prison term. “There is a clause in the law which criminalizes animal cruelty.”
She said that only a handful of people have been convicted because the law requires those who have filed a complaint to have concrete proof that animals have been abused.
Cho Chang-hyun, a public relations judge of Changwon District Court, says that it was the first case where a person has been charged with butchering a large number of cats and that it was very difficult for the court to make the ruling.
He points out that many people in Korea are not aware that catching stray animals for meat or killing them in a brutal manner is a criminal offence.
“Given that it was the first case where a large number of cats were slaughtered, the judge could have slapped the perpetrator with a prison term as a warning to others,” he says. “However, Judge Park gave him a suspended sentence as he had no previous convictions.”
Regardless, this ruling is consistent with other rulings regarding animal cruelty in South Korea.
“All previous offenders charged with cruelty on animals received a fine or a lighter punishment,” the Judge told The Korea Observer. “No one even received a suspended sentence.”
“This is because Koreans didn’t consider the humane treatment of animals until the animal protection law was enacted. Animal cruelty was regarded as property damage.”
Jeong could have received the maximum penalty under the animal protection law,which is a one-year prison term.
However, the judge gave a light sentence after considering Jeong’s circumstances despite the fact that the perpetrator made more than $13,000 over a year by conducting the illegal business.
According to Judge Park’s ruling, the defendant set up the traps on the roads in residential areas Kimhae-si, Gangseo-gu in Busan, Yangsan-si, and Hapcheon-gun.
“The defendant lured the cats by placing the fish cakes inside the traps and caught approximately six cats,” he said in reference to evidence gathered by police.
The judge said in his ruling that the defendant then put three to five cats into the plastic boxes, put the lids on so the cats cannot escape, and threw the cats alive in the boxes into the boiling water to kill them.
“From the beginning of February 2014 to around the 8th May, 2015, the defendant conducted the killing of 600 cats by using these cruel methods,” he said.
Jeong was selling the cat meat to Geongangwon owners at the 5-day markets in Gupo, Haman, and Yangsan.
KAPCA became aware that Jeong was trapping street cats last year.
They informed the police who followed up.
Police raided Jeong’s address in Gimhae and found bins full of cat organs and an industrial refrigerator full of an “unspecified meat,” which was later confirmed to be cat.
Jeong had no trouble selling the cat meat at the traditional markets as there is still demand for cat soup (gyeongi soju) in Korea.
Many members of the older population still believe that cat soup abates arthritis, although many medical experts disagree.
Another issue is that while article 8 of the Animal Protection Law bans inflicting cruelty to animals, it is very difficult to understand how the police and judicial system measure cruelty.
Kim, president of KAPCA, experiences this confusion first hand when reporting animal abuse cases.
“We reported a dog meat seller who kills dogs with a hammer to the police,” Kim said. “However, he was found innocent because his slaughtering method was not considered animal abuse under the Animal Protection Law.”
Animal activists are tired of animal abusers getting away with cruelty.
AJ Garcia, president of CARE, wants the cruelty to be defined under law to make prosecution easier.
“As it stands right now animal welfare laws are insufficient,” Garcia said. “I would like it to be a lot broader.”
“I would like it to include farm animals as well and I would like there to be a clause that defines animal cruelty and abuse to the extent of everything from the physical all the way to the mental impact that abuse and cruelty carry.”
The government estimates there are around 200,000 stray cats in Seoul and some residents welcome the reduction of street cats.
Twenty-five district councils have started a trap-neuter-return program (TNR) with city government support.
TNR programs are expected to help reduce the cat population in the future without harming the cats.
Individuals, called cat mums, try to ensure the street cats are healthy with many travelling throughout their provinces feeding them after work.
One animal activist and cat mum, Saemi Han, takes two hours each evening to feed the entire neighbourhood street cats around Sookmyung University.
She does this because she feels it is her duty and no one else is doing it in her area.
“Who else is going to feed and care for these cats if I don’t? They are living [beings] and should be treated well but they are not. They don’t deserve to be hungry or in pain,” Han said.
She says more needs to be done to reduce the number of street cats in Seoul and residents should take personal responsibility to ensure the success of the TNR program.
Despite the efforts of cat mums and local councils, some residents view cats as vermin and try to kill them by mixing poison in with food left for cats.
This case will be heard later this year in the high court on appeal.
Changwon-District-Court-written-judgment – In English. Translated by Euigoo Kang for The Korea Observer.
창원지방법원_2015고단212811-4 (1) – In Korean. Original document, supplied by the court judge.