Continuing efforts to support past Goldman Prize winners under duress, Douglas E. Goldman, President of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, recently sent a letter to the President of South Korea asking her to release 1995 Goldman Prize recipient Choi Yul from prison.
Choi was sentenced to one year in prison in March 2013 and has already served several months of his sentence. Choi’s colleagues at the Korea Green Foundation and the Korea Federation for Environmental Movement have been calling for his release for months, labeling his trial “politically biased, legally unjust and morally corrupt.”
South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
Mr. Goldman echoed that sentiment in his letter to Korean President Park Geun-hye. Two other prominent Korean leaders, World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon, were also copied on the letter.
Below is a copy of the letter sent by Mr. Goldman:
July 22, 2013
President Park Geun-Hye
Republic of Korea
1 Chongwadae-ro, Chongro-ku,
Seoul, 110-820, Korea
Dear Honorable President Park Geun-Hye:
I am the President of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest and most important award honoring grassroots environmental leaders. On October 13, 2011, my wife and I were especially privileged to be among the distinguished attendees at President Barack Obama’s State Dinner for your predecessor, President Lee Myung-bak.
For the past few months, all of us associated with the Goldman Prize have been observing most attentively your country’s actions regarding one of our distinguished Prize winners- Choi Yul. Mr. Choi is not merely an ordinary citizen in his homeland of Korea. He is the founder and primary mover of the environmental movement in Korea. Indeed, he is one of the most important environmental leaders in all of Asia.
Over the past 40 years, he has founded two, key, environmental, non-governmental organizations in Korea: Korea Federation for Environmental Movement and the Korea Green Foundation. For decades, Mr. Choi has consistently opposed destructive environmental practices in Korea, whether they are from rampant production of nuclear facilities with its inherent byproduct of excessive and dangerous nuclear waste or the widespread increase of toxic byproducts despoiling the air and water of Korea due to unchecked expansion of manufacturing facilities.
In 1995, he received the Goldman Environmental Prize for Asia as a result of his leadership in protecting the Korean people and their environment from the destruction caused by nuclear power plants. Disasters like Chernobyl, Kyshtym, Chalk River, Fukushima, Windscale Pile, and Three Mile Island serve to remind us of just how unsafe this form of power generation can be!
Since it was first commenced during the government of your predecessor, President Lee Myung-bak, Choi Yul has been warning the people and government of the inherent dangers of the Four Major Rivers Project. Given the massive size and importance of the Four Major Rivers Project, it appears to many observers, locally and globally, that Mr. Choi is being persecuted because of his opposition to a critical project of the Korean government. Yet, it is imperative that a democratic society will protect the rights of those who choose to reasonably and lawfully differ with the position of their government. I commend you and your administration for deciding to conduct a thorough investigation of the Four Major Rivers Project.
It is ironic that some of the charges leveled against Choi Yul involved the very award that our organization bestowed upon Choi Yul! It is imperative that I explain that the money that Mr.Choi was awarded as a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize was given without any strings attached!! If he had wanted to buy a new home for his family, that was well within his prerogative. That he chose to use all of the funds to pursue his dream of establishing the Korean Environmental Center is most exemplary, as far as we- those who awarded him that money- are concerned. To realize that our honorarium was part of the tale of charges against him is outrageous.
Frankly, in a country like the United States of America, an individual who, in his lifetime, has accomplished as much as Choi Yul has on behalf of Korea would be celebrated as a hero- not sent to languish in prison on a trumped-up charge. This type of treatment is what we have come to expect from your neighbor to the north- not from a country that prides itself on being a democratic republic!
President Park, on behalf of the Goldman Environmental Foundation’s Board of Directors and staff, I respectfully request that you grant an immediate special pardon to Choi Yul out of respect and admiration for his devoted and dedicated work. Freedom-loving people from around the world will applaud such an action. Please restore our faith in the democratic principles of Korea and your government.
Thank you very much for your prompt attention to this matter.
Douglas E. Goldman, M.D.
President, Goldman Environmental Foundation
Cc: Jim Yong Kim, M.D.; President, World Bank Group
Ban Ki-moon; Secretary-General, United Nations