The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

South Koreans get a glimpse of their ousted president — in handcuffs

South Korea's former leader Park Geun-hye stands trial on bribery charges on May 23 over a corruption scandal that ended her presidency. (Video: Reuters)

TOKYO — During months of demonstrations against Park Geun-hye, South Koreans imagined their then-president in handcuffs. Blacklisted artists made effigies of Park in fake jail cells, and people lined up to take selfies in front of the “imprisoned president.”

Signs at the demonstrations beseeched “Arrest Park Geun-hye” and “Go to prison.” Entrepreneurial types sold “prison bread” and “prison soy milk” to encourage the sentiment.

On Tuesday, the effigies became reality: South Korean television and smartphone screens were filled with pictures of the disgraced former president arriving for the first day of her trial — in handcuffs and with her prison number, 503, on her navy blue jacket and pants.

After months of peaceful protests against her, Park was dismissed from office in March because of her alleged role in a huge corruption case. The constitutional court found she had “continuously” violated the law by helping her friend Choi Soon-sil extract bribes from South Korean conglomerates and that she had personally asked big business for donations.

Park was detained for questioning, sent to a prison cell where she has to sleep on a mattress on the floor and wash her own metal meal tray.

She is now on trial on 18 charges including bribery and extortion in relation to some $50 million she and Choi are alleged to have taken or solicited from three big conglomerates. If convicted, Park could face a prison term of 10 years to a life sentence, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

Park adamantly denies any wrongdoing.

Her appearance in the Seoul Central District Court is the first time she’s been seen since she was detained March 31.

Local media had previously reported that, in detention, Park would be denied the hairpins needed to maintain her famous updo, reminiscent of the hairstyle her mother used to wear.

Park’s father was Park Chung-hee, a hard-line military general who seized power in South Korea in 1963. A North Korean sympathizer tried to assassinate him in 1974, but the bullet struck and killed her mother instead. (Park Chung-hee was killed five years later by his spy chief.)

But Park had her hair up in big clips, and appeared drawn when she arrived on a bus at the court. She was escorted inside by correctional officers. Asked her occupation by the presiding judge, Park replied that she had none.

Park did not look up when Choi, her friend of 40 years, was brought into the courtroom and the women did not acknowledge each other. Choi’s attorney sat between them.

Choi has been on trial for months in her alleged role in the bribery and influence peddling scandal but also strongly denies the charges.

Park will appear in court again Thursday.