The democratic façade of the right-wing regime in south Korea was again punctured in February when a member of parliament and leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment on treason charges.
Prosecutors had demanded a sentence of 20 years for 52-year-old Lee Seok-Ki, who was tried along with six other members of his party. They were sentenced, on 17 February, to terms ranging from four to 12 years.
Lee was the first member of the country’s National Assembly to face treason charges since the end of open military dictatorship in the late 1980s.
Besides his prison term, the court ordered Lee to be deprived of his civil rights for a further 10 years following his eventual release.
Lee was charged last September, after the National Assembly had supinely voted to lift his parliamentary immunity, by invoking the 65-year-old National Security Act. Under this draconian legislation, any expression of sympathy with communism or with the socialist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the north is outlawed and liable to harsh punishment.
The charges related to a meeting Lee allegedly held with supporters in May last year. At that time, tensions on the Korean peninsula were at fever pitch, with the US and south Korea engaged in a dress rehearsal for a pre-emptive strike on and nuclear war with the DPRK.
The court heard that Lee told members of what was described as the “revolutionary organisation” that, in the event of war with the north, they should prepare to launch attacks on south Korea’s communications lines and railways and launch an armed uprising.
“We see sufficient evidence that (the defendant) plotted a revolt and planned collective actions to carry it out,” said the court ruling.
The trial was also told that Lee had made remarks praising the DPRK and had sung DPRK revolutionary songs.
Lee denied all the charges, stating that he was the victim of a witch hunt by south Korea’s domestic spy agency, aimed at deflecting attention away from a developing scandal concerning the dirty tricks (which reportedly included a mind-boggling 20 million posts on Twitter) perpetrated by its agents in the 2012 presidential election. The underhand manoeuvrings of the secret service during that election were designed to ensure the election of right-wing candidate Park Guen-Hye, daughter of a long-time former military dictator, the defeat of the candidate from the Democratic Party, and hence the perpetuation of a policy of hostility to the DPRK and servility to US imperialism.
Besides, the south Korean spy agencies have a long history of cooking up fake cases, featuring non-existent organisations, in order to suppress patriotic and left-wing activists and to justify anti-communism and confrontation with compatriots in the north. In this case, the prosecution relied on a dubious tape recording supposedly made by one of its agents, whose provenance was challenged by Lee and his defence team.
This is not the first time that Lee has been imprisoned for his political activities and views. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in 2002, but received a presidential pardon later the same year. The constitutional court is now considering a government petition to ban the United Progressive Party, despite it being the third largest party in the National Assembly.
Lee’s trial and imprisonment is just the highest-profile example of a renewed crackdown against progressive political activists in south Korea. For example, earlier in the same month, a man in his 70s was sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment for praising the DPRK.
Ironically, Lee’s sentence was handed down in the same week as the United Nations released a fabricated and biased report cooked up by retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, which accused the leaders of the DPRK of “crimes against humanity”. Compared to the massive media publicity generated around this report, the real (as opposed to imagined) human rights abuses in south Korea are greeted with comparative silence.