The democratic façade of the US client state in south Korea has suffered a major blow with the arrest of several members of a progressive left-wing party, including one of its six members of parliament.
On 28 August, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), south Korea’s secret police, previously known as the Korean CIA, launched two days of raids directed against the United Progressive Party (UPP) and its trade-union allies. Ten UPP offices and homes were raided and three party officials were arrested on charges of treason and sedition. Travel bans were imposed on 14 other party members.
After a supine parliament had voted overwhelmingly (258 to 14, with 11 abstentions and 6 invalid votes) to strip him of immunity, UPP MP Lee Seok Ki was also arrested from his parliamentary office, driven to jail, and appeared in court on 5 September, charged with plotting an armed rebellion, as well as “praising and supporting” the socialist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), something that is illegal under south Korea’s draconian anti-communist national security law. The judge ordered him to be remanded in custody on the grounds that he might flee if granted bail.
A long-time fighter for liberty, Lee had previously been arrested in 2002 and was sentenced to a prison term of two-and-a-half years on charges of working with an underground political party.
According to security-agency recordings, supposedly of a meeting attended by Mr Lee, the UPP leader was allegedly discussing steps to be taken in the event of the outbreak of conflict on the Korean peninsula, at a time when US-led military exercises had brought the situation to the brink of war earlier this year.
According to the New York Times: “In one of the meetings, which lasted till 2.00am on 13 May at a religious retreat in the south Korean capital, Seoul, Mr Lee, 51, said war could be imminent on the divided Korean peninsula and his followers should prepare themselves for a ‘revolution’ against ‘the world’s most powerful American imperialists’ and achieve ‘a new reunified fatherland’, according to the National Intelligence Service’s charges against him …
“According to the charges, one of Mr Lee’s followers reminded the others that during the Korean war, the south Korean authorities arrested and executed tens of thousands of leftists out of fears that they would collaborate with the north Korean army. The man, Hong Soon Seok [who is also one of those now arrested], was quoted as saying that if there were another war, a similar fate could befall south Korean leftists, ‘as jews were once rounded up’ …
“Mr Lee and his followers also face separate charges of violating south Korea’s anti-communist national security law when they sang north Korea’s ‘revolutionary’ propaganda songs during four political gatherings last year.” (‘South Korean lawmakers back arrest of colleague in treason case’, 4 September 2013)
The UPP hit back at the arrests, accusing the NIS of “infringing on the constitution, showing contempt for democracy and throwing the people into confusion”.
The arrest of Lee, and the crackdown on the UPP, comes when the NIS is itself immersed in scandal over its alleged interference in last year’s presidential election, aimed at securing the election of Ms Park Gyun Hye, daughter of the late military dictator Park Chung Hee. During Park Chung Hee’s 18 years of iron-fisted rule, many thousands were tortured and murdered by state security forces, most without trial of any kind.
Former NIS head Won Sei Hoon is accused of ordering subordinates to engage in a massive campaign of posting disinformation on the internet, primarily alleging that Ms Park’s opponents were ‘pro-north Korea’. Despite being the major victims of this black propaganda, the Democratic Party cravenly instructed its legislative members to vote for the arrest of Lee Seok Ki, whilst warning the NIS of the dangers of McCarthyism.
Since Ms Park secured her presidency by these foul means, she has presided over an intensification of internal repression, with an increase in arrests under the anti-north Korea legislation, including for accessing DPRK-linked websites or resending pro-DPRK twitter posts.
Many observers believe that the latest arrests are designed at least in part to divert attention from the scandal shaking the NIS itself.
Moreover, it is clear that it is the UPP’s political programme that has called down upon it the wrath of the south Korean authorities and their US and Japanese imperialist patrons.
The party’s platform calls for “rectifying our nation’s shameful history tainted by imperialist invasions, the national divide, military dictatorship, the tyranny and plunder of transnational monopoly capital and chaebol [south Korea’s giant family-controlled monopoly business interests]”.
The UPP also demands an end to the US military presence in south Korea, the dismantling of south Korea’s “subordinate alliance with the United States” and the reunification of north and south Korea.
The persecution directed at this progressive political party once again unmasks the dictatorial essence of the right-wing regime in Seoul.