Image shows certificate awarded to Gwangju Uprising survivor, not S. Korea's former president

An image of a certificate given to South Koreans who took part in a pro-democracy uprising in 1980 has been shared in multiple social media posts that falsely claimed it was given to former president Moon Jae-in. The image previously circulated in a local media report that said the certificate was given to someone who shared Moon's name. A spokesperson for the country's patriots and veterans affairs ministry also told AFP the certificate circulating online was not given to the former president.

"Cow head's democracy merit certificate," read part of a Korean-language post, using a slur for former South Korean president Moon Jae-in, shared on Facebook on June 3, 2024.

An image attached to the post shows a "Gwangju democratic merit recipient certificate" awarded to a "Moon Jae-in".

Text on the certificate, signed by former president Kim Dae-jung on November 1, 2002, says it was granted for "contributing to democracy and the enhancement of human rights by taking part in the Gwangju democracy movement".

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, captured on June 5, 2024

Also known as the Gwangju Uprising, the pro-democracy movement took place in the southwestern city of Gwangju in May 1980 against dictator Chun Doo-hwan's declaration of martial law.

Chun deployed troops to crush the uprising, leading to the deaths of around 160 people according to official figures, though activists said the toll may have been three times as high.

After South Korea's transition to democracy in 1987, survivors of the movement and family members of the victims were granted state benefits or "merits" for their contribution to democracy (archived link). 

The same image was shared alongside similar claims elsewhere on Facebook here, here and here, where it was shared more than 190 times in total.

While the certificate is genuine, it was in fact awarded to someone who has the same name as the former president.

Injured Gwangju participant

A spokesperson for South Korea's Ministry of Veterans and Patriots Affairs, which oversees and manages state benefits given to merit recipients, dismissed the claim (archived link).

"The claim this document represents a merit certificate awarded to the former president is false," spokesperson Lee Sung-won told AFP on June 3.

A keyword search on Google found the image in fact corresponds to a screenshot from a fact check aired by South Korean broadcaster JTBC in February 2019 (archived link).

The JTBC report addressed widely circulating rumours that Moon's name was included in a memorial in Gwangju to commemorate victims and participants of the uprising (archived link).

It said there had been a spike in misinformation about the movement following comments from right-wing politicians.

According to the report, the certificate was in fact awarded to a different Moon Jae-in, who had been shot in the leg during the 1980 uprising.

Below is a screenshot comparison between the image used in the false posts (left) and in the JTBC report (right):

Screenshot comparison between the image used in the false posts (left) and in the JTBC report (right)

The document included in the JTBC report showed the person named in the certificate was born on January 2, 1939, but former president Moon was born on January 24, 1953 (archived link).

According to interviews in local media and his autobiography, Moon was a university student at Seoul's Kyung Hee University in 1980 and only learned of the uprising while under arrest for taking part in a student movement unrelated to Gwangju (archived links here, here and here).

Misinformation stemming from the confusion surrounding the two Moons has been debunked in other local reports, including here and here (archived links here and here).

AFP has previously debunked false claims about Gwangju merit recipients here, here and here

Is there content that you would like AFP to fact-check? Get in touch.

Contact us