The conflict between police and antigovernment groups in South Korea has escalated in recent months, culminating in a police raid inside a headquarters of religious dissidents.
In that incident, several women repeatedly were beaten and arrested after a prayer meeting and for the first time in many months an allegation of police torture was reported.
The new tension, according to reliable sources, stems from a renewed restiveness on college campuses and a determination by police to draw the line on what can and cannot be done by all three centers of discontent - students, workers and religious groups.
There have been student demonstrations since last June, demanding an end to the emergency prolamations by which President Park Chang Hee has governed since 1972.
A large demonstration scheduled for Oct. 17 in downtown Seoul was snuffed out before it started when large numbers of police appeared on the streets. Street demonstrations are banned under one of the emergency proclamations. Some student and religious leaders had been placed under house arrest beforehand.
The most serious instance of alleged police reprisals came on Sept. 22 when, according to witnesses, the headquarters building of the Korean National Council of Churches was raided after one youth had shouted from a balcony several slogans, including one alleging that President Park was a Communist.
Witnesses said a regular prayer meeting had been held in a second floor auditorium. About 10 women representing textile workers had staged a brief drama depicting their strife-torn effort to introduce union activity in the factories.
It ended in an emotional climax, with several women in tears running out of the auditorium, down a flight of stairs and toward the street, where both riot police and plainsclothesmen were waiting.
The police reportedly beat several of the women and then locked the doors to prevent them from leaving. At about the same time, several others from the prayer meeting emerged onto a balcony and one shouted that President Park was a Communist. Criticism of the president is forbidden, except within the National Assembly.
Witnesses said the police then invaded the prayer meeting room, beat some of those present, and dragged one woman, the Rev. Cho Wha Soon, down the steps.
About 30 persons were arrested and several were given brief prison terms. One of the young men briefly held later told friends he was tortured by electric shocks from wires clamped on his wrist as police attempted to learn the identity of the person who had shouted the anti-Pak slur.
The young man allegedly tortured has not complained formally and leaders in the religious community say he was warned he might be killed if he did so.
In similar circumstances several years ago, the U.S. Embassy here investigated and made representations to the government about instances of alleged torture.
Reports of torture are very rare now. In the latest case, the embassy says it has been unable to act because of a lack of evidence and the absence of formal complaint from any organization.
"I hear rumors but not from people with particular knowledge and no organization has yet said there may be something to it," said one embassy official.
An embassy spokesman said that the new U.S. ambassador, William Gleysteen Jr., "views with particular concern" allegations of torture.
Last summer, the embassy spokesman said, U.S. officials here made representations to the government following reports that students arrested during demonstrations had been gagged and placed in isolation cells.
A U.S. official said he was told by south Korean authorities then that the students had been disciplined in that manner after they refused to stop shouting slogans in prison.
The dissidents have been waiting for a sign of the policy Gleysteen will follow regarding human rights violations. Last summer, he replaced Richard Sneider, who was not admired by the Protestant and Catholic ministers and lay leaders who have made up the core of the domestic opposition to President Park.
The Rev. Kim Kwan Suc, secretary-general of the Korean National Council of Churches, said so far Gleysteen "has not impressed us." He noted the new ambassador has mentioned human rights in only one paragraph of a speech.
"It got a negative response," said Kim. "Many of our people were disappointed."
In the speech on Sept. 11, Gleysteen said the United States wiches to nourish a "concern for human rights" in other countries "within obvious limits of national sovereignty and practical posibility."
He added: "We do so in recognition that we must not interfere with the internal politics of other nations and that Americans often have an imperfect understanding of what other people want and have already accomplished. Many Americans also know that we overlook the fact that East Asian countries surpass us in many aspects of civilized society. Our government will take all these considerations into account but we will nevertheless pursue our ideals."