Ahn Sung Yui, no longer an official enemy of the state, looks back with contained bitterness on his year as a political prisoner in the late Park Chung Hee's South Korea.
It was spent mostly in a cell measuring about 10 by 10 feet -- room to sleep and read in, and even to jog if he confined his steps to a tiny circle. The cell was unheated and in the cold winter months he had to pull his bedding around his shoulders to survive, he said. He was allowed a 20-minute visit by his wife every two weeks. Except, for that, he was alone all the time.
"If one does not have a strong spirit," he said, "it is hard to bear for even 10 minutes."
Ahn was chatting in the comfort of home with friends and visiting reporters in a scene repeated today in many other houses around Seoul. It was a kind of grand homecoming weekend for 68 political prisoners who were released in the early hours yesterday, the last persons to be confined for violating the late President Pard's Emergency Decree Number 9.
They were sent home in twos and threes early Saturday after the decree, which banned political dissent, was abolished by Park's successor, President Choi Kyu Hah. Nearly half of them were students picked up in street protests and some had spent more than three years behind bars.
In all, according to the Justice Ministry, 1,370 persons had been picked up for violating the decree and 1,050 had been jailed. At the time of Park's assassination on Oct. 26, 132 were still in prison. Nearly half of them had been set free quietly in the week before the emergency decree was abolished.
Al least 114 political prisoners, as described by human rights organizations based here, still remain in prison. They are charged with violating not only the emergency decree but also with more serious offenses, such law, which includes a potential death as breaking the tough anticommunist penalty. Among them is Kim Chi Ha, an internationally renowned poet, who is accused of favoring communism.
It was a day of relaxation and jubiliation for the last 68 to emerge and some spent it recalling the hardships. For some, the epochal event of their imprisonment was the announcement that Park had been assassinated.
"I had very complex feelings," Ahn recalled. "On the one hand I felt very sorry for him and on the other hand I was pleased. I guessed it meant I would be released. It was a very mixed feeling."
For the Rev. Moon Ik Hwan, who spent a total of three years in jail for two separate violations, the immediate reaction to Park's slaying was not so complex. An American-educated Presbyterian minister, he had just begun one of his frequent fasts when the announcement came over a prison loudspeaker.
'So I said, 'bring me some food, I've decided I'm going to eat,'" he recalled today.
Among those freed were ministers, students, college professors, newspaper reporters, poets and novelists.
Ahn, 41, was a reporter for 15 years with the Dong-A Iibo, one of Seoul's leading dailies. Unhappy with Park's new authoritarian constitution in 1972, he formed a reporters' committee of protest. Three years later, his publisher, under pressure from advertisers and the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, dismissed him and about 170 other reporters, editors and television announcers and producers.
His committee of unemployed reporters for three years published a mimeographed underground sheet detailing the government's alleged civil rights abuses. Finally, all 10 members of his committee were arrested and jailed for one or two years. He is suing his publisher for reinstatement -- "not for the money but for the principle," Ahn said.
It is not yet clear what will happen to those freed. They officially have no civil rights because of their arrests, even though the crime they were accused of has been struck from the books. President Choi has indicated that some will have their rights restored.
Several hundred students cannot return to their universities unless special permission is granted by the government, which has said it will study the possibility.
Many of those freed are professors who were dismissed for their controversial statements before being arrested and imprisoned. Some are suing for reinstatement.
Until now, at least, jobs have been hard to come by because the KCIA maintained a blacklist of those who had been charged and convicted of violating the emergency decree. Companies could hire them only if they signed a sworn statement apologizing for their crime. Few signed. Many reporters and professors became parttime translators and one of the city's most prominent newspaper editors supported his family by publishing historical articles.
Their employment opportunities may have improved in recent days. Public opinions, as gauged by newspaper editorials, largely approves of the abolition of the emergency decree. Newspapers that baefore Park's murder were critical of dissent this weekend had turned to criticizing his decree for stifling dissent and picturing those arrested under it as suffering heroes.