Soldiers under South Korea's marital law command have severely beaten many dissidents arrested in two recent incidents, according to the victims and other sources in the dissident community.
In interviews this week, the victims described being struck on the head, feet and hands with sticks, and being trampled and kicked by soldiers wearing heavy military boots.
They said some of their friends were revived by a military doctor after they had fainted and then were returned for more beatings.
Sources in the dissident community who have interviewed many other victims described the beatings as harsher than anything meted out by police and the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency in the last years of the late president Park Chung Hee's government.
The victims included several ministers, former professors and students. They were picked up for participating at two meetings that took place without permission of the martial law command; unauthorized public gatherings have been banned by the command since Park was assassinated on Oct. 26.
Among those arrested and imprisoned was a prominent 78-year-old Quaker leader, Ham Sok Hon, who is a magazine editor and veteran antigovernment leader.
An anglican minister, the Rev. Lee Jae Jung was beaten so badly that he could not walk upright when first released from jail, according to the dissident sources.
In the major incident, which occurred Nov. 24, 123 persons were picked up after they had attended a protest rally in downtown Seoul. They had rented a hall in Young Women's Christian Association on the pretext of holding a wedding ceremony.
Many of them were taken to a military command post and ordered to change clothes before the beatings began.
One young man this week displayed a scar on his head that required seven stitches to close. He said he was struck with fist, sticks and baseball bats and then kicked by soldiers wearing heavy boots.
Both military personnel and national police joined in the beatings, which went on for several hours, he said.
He said several dissidents were forced to lie on the floor where they were trampled on, and most of them fainted. They were taken to an adjoining room where a military doctor revived them and sent them back for more beatings, he said.
He said he observed some persons being forced to crouch with a pole behind their knees while soldiers pounded repeatedly on their thighs with heavy boots.
Another victim, a middle-aged man, said he was not mistreated until the eighth day of confinement, just as he was about to be released. That day, he said, he was struck repeatedly on his hands, feet and buttocks with a heavy wooden stick.
Another said the military doctor probably saved his life by cautioning the soliders that more blows might kill him.
They said the soldiers were members of the Army Security Command, a unit that investigates military offenses in normal times and had not been involved in civilian punishments before Park was assassinated.
The three victims interviewed this week said some of the soldiers accompanied their blows with cries of, "The Yushin spirit still exists."
Yushin, which means "revitalizing reforms," was the name of the authoritarian constitution Park instituted in 1972. Politicians of both parties here have promised to amend it drastically in the coming year.
The Nov. 24 rally had been called to protest martial law and the upcoming election of Prime Minister Choi Kyu Hah as president. He was elected last Thursday and has since ordered the release of all political prisoners jailed for violating one of Park's emergency decrees.
In the second incident, on Nov. 27, about 60 persons were taken into custody when they arrived at a building in downtown Seoul to take part in a religious ceremony planned by the Korea Christian Student's Federation.
None of them could be located for interviews this week. But sources in the dissident community who were present said several were clubbed with gun butts as they were taken by bus to a police station.
These sources said several of them were dragged naked across a floor during the police interrogation and that a few were victims of water torture. Hoses were forced into their mouths and water pumped in until their stomachs were distended, these sources said.