SEOUL — Hundreds of South Koreans mourned the death of a former sex slave for the Japanese military during World War II during a rally in Seoul Wednesday that demanded reparations from Tokyo over wartime atrocities.
Kim Bok-dong had been a vocal protest leader at the weekly rallies held every Wednesday in Seoul for nearly 30 years. She died on Monday following a battle with cancer. She was 92.
At a narrow street near where the Japanese Embassy used to be, protesters gathered around a bronze statue of a girl representing Korean sexual slavery victims and held a moment of silence for Kim. Many of them held signboards with Kim's photos and words including, "We will never forget the life of Kim Bok-dong" and "Japanese government, apologise!"
Kim was one of the first victims to speak out and break decades of silence over Japan's sexual slavery that experts say forced thousands of Asian women into front-line brothels.
She travelled around the world testifying about her experience, including at the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 and at a U.N. Nations Human Rights Council panel in 2016. Of the 239 Korean women who have come forward as victims, only 23 are still alive.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who visited Kim's altar at a Seoul hospital on Tuesday, said in a statement that Kim devoted her life to "restoring human dignity" and that her campaigning gave South Koreans a "braveness to face the truth."
Her death came at time when relations between South Korea and Japan have sunk to their worst in recent years over Japan's refusal to fully acknowledge the sufferings of the so-called "comfort women" during WWII and forced labourers during its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 through 1945.