Reasons for appeal on the Rep. Lee Seok-ki’s insurrection conspiracy case
– There was no conspiracy for insurrection. Release the innocent seven people!
Task Force against ‘Conspiracy of an Insurrection’ fabricated by NIS and Political Repression
• Rep. Lee Seok-ki: twelve years of imprisonment and ten years of suspension of qualification
• Lee Sang-ho, Cho Yang-won, Kim Hong-yeol, and Kim Geun-rhae: seven years of imprisonment and seven years of suspension of qualification
• Hong Soon-seok: six years of imprisonment and six years of suspension of qualification
• Han Dong-geun: four years of imprisonment and four years of suspension of qualification
Rep. Lee Seok-ki of the Unified Progressive Party (the UPP) along with six other party members was arrested after the indiscriminate search and seizure by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) on August 28, 2013 when the so-called insurrection conspiracy case was first revealed. And on February 17, 2014, the court (Chief Judge Kim Jong-woon, the Suwon District Court) found the entire defendants guilty of the insurrection conspiracy after 45 hearings and sentenced them to the above-mentioned heavy penalties.
The court concluded that a secret underground revolutionary organization, the ‘RO,’ led by Rep. Lee Seok-ki plotted to demolish national infrastructures or major military facilities across the country in line with the North Korea’s military attack against the South between March and May of 2013. The court also concluded that the meetings of May 10, 2013 and May 12, 2013 where Rep. Lee Seok-ki delivered speeches were to discuss detailed plans for an insurrection, believing the critical moment for a revolution was about to come. The court held that about 130 participants of the meetings were members of this underground revolutionary organization, the ‘RO.’
However, there was not a single objective fact identified by the court to prove such an insurrection conspiracy in the judgment. The court had to determine whether there was a conspiracy or not, merely based on ‘oral statements’ of the informant as well as ‘oral testimonies’ of the defendants and witnesses. The informant made confusing or, sometimes, contradictory statements to the court, the judge nevertheless decided that the testimonies were credible. That is to say, the informant’s statements were completely admitted and reflected in the judgment. Meanwhile, the seven defendants strenuously claimed their innocence, stating they had never heard of the so-called underground revolutionary organization or the ‘RO’, never discussed any plans for an insurrection, and even never felt the need for it. However, their claims were not accepted by the court, making the judgment be criticized as a political decision, rather than a judicial one.
1) The Judgment of the court was not based on facts but based on assumptions.
The Suwon District Court concluded that the underground revolutionary organization, the ‘RO’, was following the lines of the North Korea’s revolution strategy in South Korea and aiming for a violent revolution, and Rep. Lee Seok-ki was leading the ‘RO’ members including the rest of the defendants. However, this judgment is contradictory to the definition of an ‘organization’, determined by the previous case laws, and it was made on the ground of mere ‘assumptions’ not substantial hard evidences.
According to the precedents, an ‘underground revolutionary organization’ should have its date and details of formation identified, as it is related to the statute of limitations as an organized crime. However, in case of the ‘RO,’ nothing was identified, including when and how it was established by whom.
Moreover, in order to be defined as an underground revolutionary organization following the North Korea’s strategy of the South Korean revolution, there should have been some elements which would prove that its organization and activities were related with the North, such as receiving orders or supports from the North. However, the judgment is absolutely silent on its connection with North Korea both in material and organizational aspects.
All of the main characters of the so-called ‘underground revolutionary organization’ were decided on the basis of ‘assumptions’ made by Lee Seong-yun, the NIS informant. Lee Seong-yun had worked as a collaborator for the NIS for three years and he would have been indicted as one of the defendants if he hadn’t collaborated with the NIS. In this regard, he could be considered as a part of the investigative authority. The first trial concluded that Lee’s statements were convincing, while recognizing his testimonies were a mixture of facts and assumptions. At the trial, Lee admitted that he didn’t see the platforms of the ‘RO.’ In terms of the organizational chart he stated that he “didn’t see any document of it. No one explained about it,” and further added that “I just knew it from my more than 20 years of experience as an activist.” That is to say, Lee clearly admitted that he didn’t know about the key parts of the organization and his statement was based on his own assumptions. Besides, he claimed that he “just knew by his guts” that the defendants were members of the so-called ‘RO.’ Although the court should have distinguished the statements based on facts from the ones based on mere assumptions, it ended up finding the defendants guilty by accepting these assumption-based testimonies as credible evidences.
2) Despite three years of the NIS’ surveillances, there was no proof of an insurrection conspiracy.
– The evidence collected through the surveillance only indicate that the seven arrested are ordinary politicians of the progressive party and ordinary citizens of Korean society.
It was proven that the NIS had kept an eye on the arrested seven as short as three months and for some as long as three years. The evidence presented during the trial indicated that the NIS informant made the first contact with the NIS in May 2010 and provided information to a NIS agent who went to the same university with the informant and happened to live nearby. This NIS agent provided the latest audio-recorder to the informant and paid whenever the informant provided information on the arrested. That is to say, the informant inspected the defendants for three years and provided information on them to the NIS.
In January 2013, one of the defendants, Lee Sang-ho caught an agent of the NIS who were following him and handed him over to the police. It shows that the NIS also surveilled the defendants and followed them independently of the informant.
The NIS agents allegedly concluded that the speeches delivered at the May 10 and May 12 meetings were about plotting an insurrection based on the information presented by the informant. The NIS might have subsequently followed and watched some relevant people since then. However, Rep. Lee Seok-ki was under the investigation by the prosecution around the scandal in the UPP’s primary race for proportional representations in May 2012, and he had already been under surveillance by the authorities for a long time due to his past activities.
Even with such intensive surveillances and inspections, both the NIS and the prosecution failed to provide any hard evidence to prove how the arrested seven plotted and tried to implement an insurrection. The only piece of evidence presented by the NIS and the prosecution is the statements of the informant and the information provided by the informant.
Rather, what have been provided during the trial were the abundant evidences of how they have neither plotted nor implemented an insurrection. If those defendants really believed that the three months from March to May of 2013 had been critical periods for a revolution and prepared a detailed action plan for an insurrection during the May 10 and May 12 meetings as suggested by the judgment, they should have been occupied with prior preparations for the revolution and other follow-up actions after the meetings. However, the evidence presented during the trial clearly demonstrated that they led ordinary lives, continuing with their petition campaigns for anti-war and peace, and went on vacations with family and friends, just like any other citizens.
The records showed that the defendants joined other members of the UPP and other NGOs for campaigns, petitions, and candle light vigils for peace and against war in March and April of 2013 when the tension between the US and North Korea was high due to the joint US-ROK military drills. On April 25, 2013, Rep. Lee Seok-ki delivered a speech during an interpellation session on the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula and proposed to initiate a four-way talk led by South Korean to declare the end of war in order to fundamentally resolve the conflict. Moreover, Rep. Lee expressed that he would do whatever necessary to help the success of the Trust-building Process on the Korean Peninsula presented by President Park Guen-hye for peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
The records also showed that some of the defendants participated in election campaign to support the UPP candidates for the April 24 by-election.
Meanwhile, Hong Soon-seok, Han Dong-geun, and Lee Sang-ho paid the entire expense for a trip to Mt. Baekdu early in May and went on a group tour to Mt. Baekdu from June 6 to June 9 which they had planned in February. The Court determined that those three people were the executives of the underground revolutionary organization. How absurd is that the core executives of the ‘RO’ planed a tour to Mt. Baekdu in Spring of 2013 which the judgment suggested they recognized as critical periods for a revolution and went on a tour after the May 12 meeting where they agreed to plot an insurrection? However, the court didn’t express any opinion on this matter.
3) The principle of trial “based on evidence” disappeared and the judgment was based on assumptions made on the thoughts and ideologies
The judgment of the first trial is no more than punishing the seven defendants without substantial evidence of an insurrection conspiracy and only based on assumptions that they must have had certain intentions. The judgment indicates that scribbled notes made ten years ago, a few old books, and documents saved on an old floppy disc which is no more in use can be used to determine one person’s thoughts in mind and the current intentions. In other words, the judge found that there was an insurrection conspiracy by admitting some extracted words from private conversations and public speeches as credible evidence without requiring any other objective evidences.
The provisions of the criminal law regarding definitions and elements of an insurrection and conspiring for and inciting an insurrection are dangerously superficial and ambiguous, and they are most likely to be abused. In fact, these political charges of an insurrection, and/or conspiring for and inciting an insurrection have been abused and misused as a political tool to eliminate political opponents all times and places. Accordingly, such criminal law which is political in nature should be prevented from its abuse through an independent and neutral court and continuous academic researches of scholars on how to uphold and protect the constitutional values of human rights and democracy.
South Korea has a history of cracking down on political opposition through its intelligence agency during the military dictatorship era. The injustice cases with those who were imprisoned or executed on charges of conspiracy for rebellion has been exposed through retrials that overturned the original verdicts 30 years later. The most well-known case is the so-called Kim Dae-jung conspiracy for rebellion case.
The court should elaborate its jurisprudence crimes of conspiring for and inciting an insurrection based on the constitutional values of democracy and human rights, which are hard earned values by the people’s continuous efforts. In addition, it should apply the law carefully in accordance with the spirit of democratic judicial principles, such as the principle of legality, the principle of the presumption of innocence, the principle of trial by evidence and the principle of independent court. As such, the court should prevent the charge of insurrection conspiracy from being used as an executioner’s weapon by the people in power to suppress political opponents.
Unfortunately, the court failed to do so in the first trial. The insurrection conspiracy charge is like a bloody sword of the NIS, which has historically been used by those in power to eliminate political opponents. Today, by bringing up the charge again, the NIS is intending to conceal the scandal of its illegal intervention in the presidential election and to suppress public questions on the legitimacy of the present administration. And the court let the bloody sword to swing during the first trial. The judgment of the first trial relied on a problematic legal precedent from the military dictatorship era.
The defendants have clearly claimed their innocence in their appellate briefs and the opening arguments at the trial on appeal, stating there was no underground revolutionary organization, so called the ‘RO’ and they never plotted for an insurrection.
We demand that the Appellate Court should interpret and apply the law strictly and fairly so that the law regarding conspiring and inciting an insurrection will work as a comprehensive fence protecting a democratic society, not as a powerful man’s sword aiming his political opponents. It is the direction for which the judicial branch should aim in order to wipe off its past disgrace and to stand firm as a defender of human rights and democracy.
As there is not a single hard evidence of conspiring for an insurrection, we hope that the arrested seven be released in due course.
The Truth behind the Lee Seok-ki Scandal
– Did a South Korean Lawmaker Really Try to Overthrow the Government?
Task Force against ‘Conspiracy of an Insurrection’ fabricated by NIS and Political Repression
The Arrest of Representative Lee Seok-ki
In the early dawn of August 28th, South Korea’s top intelligence agency, the Nat’l Intelligence Service (NIS), raided the offices and residences of ten Unified Progressive Party (UPP) members including first-termer Rep. Lee Seok-ki. The NIS promptly arrested three party officials including Hong Soon-seok that afternoon and went on to arrest Rep. Lee on September 4th. Lee was arrested at his office in the Nat’l Assembly building just a few hours after the Nat’l Assembly voted to wave Lee’s non-arrest privilege as a representative. The NIS arrested three more party officials on September 30th, bringing the number of people arrested in this incident to total of seven.
The NIS indicted Lee for three charges: violating criminal law by 1) plotting an insurrection and 2) inciting an insurrection and violating the notorious Nat’l Security Law by 3) “acting in concert” with the North.
South Korean criminal law defines an insurrection as “violence for the purpose of usurping the national territory or subverting the Constitution” and punishes preparations, attempts, conspiracies, and agitation or propaganda for it as well. Lee held a lecture for UPP members of Gyeonggi Province (surrounds Seoul) on May 12th in which he allegedly incited overthrowing the government and plotted to do so with the attending members. However, the NIS failed to back up their charges with any hard or circumstantial evidence other than what was said by Lee that day. The UPP has not accepted NIS’ claims that Lee intended to prepare an insurrection and raised questions on authenticity of the transcript of the meeting leaked to the press by the NIS.
The Nat’l Security Law has been criticized internationally since its birth in 1948. Also domestically, starting from 1953 when South Korea’s first Supreme Court chief justice insisted that the Nat’l Security Law should be abolished because criminal laws could sufficiently provide for its provisions, there have been continuous calls to abolish the law. In fact, Clause 1 of Article 7 is so controversial that even the current President Park Geun-hye expressed when she was in the opposition that it should be abolished. Nonetheless, it is exactly this article that the NIS has applied to indict Lee and others for being sympathetic to the North’s nuclear program and singing activist songs popular in the North.
There have been sensational articles after articles in the South Korean media as this scandal grew. Most of the reports turned out to be false and allegations were dropped from the NIS’ investigation reports that formed the basis of the prosecution’s indictment. For example, the media provided false information such as that Lee had huge amounts of foreign currency at his home, that Lee visited the North and discussed anti-government activities, or that a supporter of Lee researched how to make home-made bombs, which continuously appeared in the news to fuel the public’s anti-North “red complex”.
Throughout this process, the NIS violated Lee’s human rights in various ways. They raided his home without the presence of Lee or his proxy, kept him under full-body CCTV surveillance during his detention and blocked him from receiving letters or visitors. But the most serious violation is that his access to counsel was limited only in the presence of the prosecution.
Who Is Rep. Lee Seok-ki?
Just like many in his generation were, Rep. Lee (b. 1962) of the Unified Progressive Party was a student activist fighting for democracy. He entered university in 1982 under the rule of General Chun who came into power through a military coup and the bloodshed in the 1980 Gwangju uprising. He spent years in hiding from the NIS and the police and was finally arrested in 2002 for his activities in an organization called Min-hyuk Party which was labeled as anti-governmental entity by the Nat’l Security Law. At the time the opposition parties and progressive activists categorized all who were arrested in this incident as political prisoners and strongly condemned the application of the Nat’l Security Law. Lee was released in 2003 and pardoned 2 years later, recovering his right to vote and run in elections.
The newly-freed Lee actively supported Democratic Labor Party (DLP) organized by his long-time colleagues since the 1980s and its successor, Unified Progressive Party (UPP). He put all his energy and efforts in helping the party in local and national parliamentary elections. He also founded a political consulting firm, the CNP, which contributed greatly in remarkable victories increasing the DLP’s local seats by more than three-fold in 2010 and more than doubling the UPP’s Nat’l Assembly seat from six to thirteen in 2012. Lee also founded Social Trend Institute that played a main role gathering public opinion and devising election strategies. Lee’s continuous successful aid to progressive candidates in the 2000s earned him the support and respect of the UPP members and officials that led to his rise to the second position in the UPP’s party list in last year’s parliamentary election.
Rep. Lee played an active role as a member of the Nat’l Assembly’s Science, ICT, Future Planning, Broadcasting and Communications Committee. He worked hard to balance the unequal South Korea-US relations, to promote reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas and to promote impartiality in the media. He officially proposed 4-party talks among the two Koreas, China and the U.S. when tensions escalated on the Korean Peninsula in early 2013, and the drastic reduction of subsidies to the U.S. military forces in Korea from the South Korean government. Both proposals garnered much interest from the press. Rep. Lee also played a key role in derailing President Park Geun-hye’s first choice for the Minister of Science, ICT and Future Planning, revealing the former Bell Lab. CEO’s links with the CIA.
However, the ruling conservative Saenuri Party and security agencies including the NIS never lost their suspicion of Rep. Lee. They believed Lee was a “North-sympathizing communist” and “trouble-making revolutionist” trying to destroy the legal order. Of course, Lee’s arrest in 2002 did provide some basis for distrust. However, this sort of suspicion and labeling was not based on any kind of actual actions and, similar to the McCarthyist frenzy in the post-WWII U.S., their political attacks had no evidence whatsoever.
What did Rep. Lee Actually Say in His May 12th Lecture?
It was the lecture Lee did in a May 12th 2013 meeting with the UPP members in the Gyeonggi Province that has been under fire. In fact, the NIS’s and prosecution’s indictments are based solely on this lecture. The NIS and the prosecution claim that Lee incited an insurrection among the attendees and plotted to overthrow the government with the attendees’ support.
Lee’s lecture was on the heightened tensions between the North and the US in early 2013. Both sides paraded their full military strengths in every aspect. The North carried out a nuclear test and threatened the US saying they could strike first. In turn, the U.S. brought in their B-2s, B-52s and submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles into the Korean Peninsula implying the possibility of attacking the North. The international English media reported that the U.S. was carrying out a scenario established in a “playbook”, which was finalized at the end of 2012.
Any kind of military clash between the North and the U.S. would automatically involve South Korea. The South has a military alliance with the U.S. and its war-time command is under the U.S.’s control. It is common sense in South Korea that it would have to support U.S. troops if the U.S. starts a war against the North.
Lee presented his objectives views on this point and voiced his deep concerns on what would happen to progressive activists if a war would actually break out. In fact, during the Korean War (1950-1953), after coaxing a hundreds of thousands of people to register in a state-led anti-communist organization in a politically uncertain climate, the South Korean government killed more than 200,000 of those registered in a witch hunt to weed out potential sympathizers of the North. Under the political situation like South Korea, it is always a possibility that the UPP members may face a similar ending.
Some members who attended the May 12th meeting suggested ways to obstruct the U.S. military if a war broke out in the Korean Peninsula, but Lee tried to dispel such ultra-radical suggestions and called for a pacifist movement through various methods such as public campaigns.
One of the biggest reasons Lee’s arrest became such a sensation in Korea is because the media covered Lee’s lecture extensively. The NIS had recorded his lecture using espionage techniques and leaked parts of the transcript to the media, in violation of criminal procedures. The public was alarmed at some of the expressions of the lecture and public sentiment rapidly turned against Lee. The two Koreas use the same language and share thousands of years of history up to 1945. But since being divided, certain terms became a taboo in each side of the border. A main example is “Chosun,” the last official country name of a unified Korea before Japan’s colonization in 1910. After the division of the two Koreas, the North resumed using Chosun as its official name while the South adopted a new name, and ever since calling Korea “Chosun” became a taboo in South Korea. However, Lee used the term “Chosun” to refer to Korea several times, pouring fuel on the conservatives’ claims that Lee was a North-sympathizer.
Whether Lee can be convicted solely on the basis of his May 12th lecture is a legal question. Yet, societies under the rule of law generally do not persecute people for merely voicing their opinions. Nonetheless, South Korea has de facto legalized such persecutions based on its unique situation of confronting the North and many have been imprisoned and even executed under such charges.
The UPP’s Position
Lee Jung-hee (the Chair of the UPP) claims that Lee Seok-ki’s so-called plot to overthrow the government is an elaborate scheme of the conservative establishment. Her main points are as follows:
First, the ruling conservative Saenuri Party devised this plot to eradicate the possibility of a future power transfer to the opposition parties. South Korea’s opposition parties consists of, the Democratic Party (DP), which is liberal and moderate, and smaller social democratic progressive parties. The opposition joined forces during the April 2012 general elections and, although the Saenuri party got a slim majority in seats (152 out of 300), the opposition won a large number of popular votes. To prevent the continuance of this successful alliance, the conservative forces decided to attack the weaker progressive parties, especially using its alleged links to the North to put the DP on guard by rousing its “red complex”. As a result, they succeeded in breaking up the alliance that was cooperating on revealing how South Korea’s top intelligence agency meddled in the 2012 presidential election until right before this incident.
Next, President Park Geun-hye and the Saenuri Party wanted revenge on Lee Jung-hee herself. In the most popular TV debate during last year’s presidential campaign, then-UPP candidate Lee Jung-hee created a sensation with her blunt criticisms of Park. It must have been unprecedented humiliation for the daughter of former President Park Chung-hee who ruled South Korea with an iron fist for 18 years following his military coup in 1961. In particular, Lee Jung-hee noted during the debate that Park Chung-hee adulated Japan under its colonial rule and was a proactive Japanese collaborator. Such disclosures created ripples in the nation and President Park Geun-hye continued to face the repercussions after sworn in this year. Many Koreans believe that Lee’s arrest was, in a large part, political payback.
Lastly, the growth of progressive parties in and of itself poses a threat to the conservative forces. After entering the Nat’l Assembly in 2004 with ten seats, the UPP retained their presence in the parliament with 5 seats in 2008 and carried off a great success in 2012 with 13 seats. Unlike the moderate DP, the UPP had many radically progressive policies that were gradually adopted by the DP as the UPP’s power grew. By the end of 2011, even the Saenuri Party shed blue to adopt red as its official color–the color that traditionally symbolized the progressives. The growth of the progressives was pulling South Korean politics to the left, which caused great alarm to the conservatives. Lee’s arrest was a step towards disbanding progressive parties, and in fact, the prosecution has set up a special task force to dissolve the UPP.
However, South Korean politics does not follow a single person’s design, even if that person is the president. Korean people have continuously expressed their opinions and oppositions directly through large street rallies and protests whenever their wishes were not properly being heeded.
After Lee’s arrest, numerous demonstrations denouncing the NIS’ meddling in last year’s presidential elections and the persecution of Rep. Lee Seok-ki took place. These demonstrations led to the birth of a joint committee of the progressives across the society including the national labor union, Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU), National Peasants Alliance, Association of the Families of Political Prisoners and other main progressive groups in the religious community.
Concerns about the NIS and the current political situation are growing around the world as well especially among the international media and intellectuals. Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International expressed her concern in the statement regarding the persecution of Rep. Lee Seok-ki on September 11th and national civil groups in Japan also denounced this plot on September 19th. Conscientious intellectuals are also joining in the effort. 206 Korean studies scholars overseas, including Owen Miller, made an announcement to “convey their concern for the threat democracy in South Korea is facing and expressed their solidarity with South Koreans and help block the reversion to dictatorship” and 57 scholars including Noam Chomsky and Michel Chossudovsky also made a similar statement.
South Korea is internationally known for its economic success and vibrant democracy. It is now the 15th largest economy in the world and has had 6 consecutive democratic presidential elections with shifts of powers. It is less known that such absurdities like the Lee Seok-ki scandal are still happening.
*We hope this leaflet will help provide an alternative view different from the lop-sided main narratives and bring more international attention to the weakened state of South Korea’s democracy.