Lawmaker Lee Seok-ki acquitted of plotting an insurrection
The appeal hearing for Unified Progressive Party lawmaker Lee Seok-ki on charges of inciting an insurrection at Seoul High Court in Seocho district, Aug. 11. (photo pool)
The appeals court in the trial of Unified Progressive Party lawmaker Lee Seok-ki acquitted him of the key charge of plotting an insurrection.
But guilty verdicts against Lee were upheld on charges of incitement to insurrection and violation of the National Security Law. The 52-year-old lawmaker was sentenced to nine years in jail, cutting three years off the sentence from the first trial, and had his eligibility to serve in the National Assembly suspended for seven years.
Unified Progressive Party lawmaker Lee Seok-ki at Seoul High Court in Seocho district, Aug. 11.
With its ruling, the court declined to acknowledge an actual plotting of insurrection through a so-called “revolutionary organization” (RO), but sided with the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and prosecutors with guilty verdicts on concrete actions by Lee.
The ninth criminal division of Seoul High Court, judge Lee Min-geol presiding, explained its acquittal on conspiracy to commit insurrection on Aug. 11 by saying, “It cannot be concluded that there were even the general contours of an agreement on the time of the insurrection or the division of labor, nor can it be concluded that the plotting proceeded into external preparations.”
Proving plotting to commit insurrection requires evidence of a mutual agreement among organization members on the general acts of insurrection, if not a detailed criminal plan. The court concluded that neither the NIS nor prosecutors gave sufficient evidence.
The court also ruled that there was insufficient evidence on the so-called “RO” that prosecutors described as an illegal revolutionary organization – although it admitted “having suspicions.”
It was a very different conclusion from the court in the first trial in February, which concluded that “around 130 RO members became parties to the insurrection and conspired at a secret meeting in Hapjeong,” a neighborhood in Seoul.
The charges of plotting an insurrection for which Lee was acquitted have raised questions since the start of the case. The NIS first began investigating Lee in July 2010 after being tipped off by a source, also identified by the surname Lee. For the next three years, it consistently characterized the case as a National Security Law violation. As recently as June 2013, the warrant for communications restrictions listed the criminal act as “violation of the National Security Law.”
Then, some time around July 2013, the case began to be talked about in terms of plotting an insurrection.
August 2013, the month when the NIS first made its investigation public, was also the time of the first trial of former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon and former Seoul Metropolitan Policy Agency chief Kim Yong-pan on charges of election interference, a violation of the Public Official Election Act. The NIS was also under heavy fire for its unapproved release of classified transcripts from a 2007 inter-Korean summit. Questions raged at the same about whether the claims of conspiracy were drummed up to deflect some of the criticisms that were hammering the NIS at exactly the same moment.
While the appeals court acquitted Lee on the charges of plotting, it was also highly critical about specific acts by him and the other defendants. This was seen in its agreement that the events of May 12, 2013, when Lee delivered a speech to 130 UPP members and others at a religious facility in Hapjeong calling for material and technical preparations for overthrowing the government in the event of an outbreak of war, constituted incitement to insurrection. Lee‘s counsel had argued that the material and technical preparations in questions were “only rhetoric” and “simply meant they should make practical preparations.”
Lee Min-geol, the head judge who presided over the case, also drew attention with his admonishment of the defendants over the very charges for which they were acquitted.
“Though the defendants never reached the stage where plotting to commit insurrection would be recognized, it would have been a imminent danger to the country’s security and the liberal democratic order if they had proceeded along the lines of Mr. Lee’s incitement,” Lee said. “This is a serious crime, and it cannot be tolerated.”
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Court Finds Lee Seok-ki Not Guilty of Sedition Conspiracy
The Seoul High Court announced its ruling today in the appeals trial of the Lee Seok-ki et al ‘sedition conspiracy’ case. The Court found Representative Lee Seok-ki and his co-defendants ‘not guilty’ on the most serious charge of sedition conspiracy, but upheld the lower court’s ruling on the charges of ‘inciting an insurrection’ and national security law violation.
The Court reduced Rep. Lee’s previous sentence of 12 years to 9 years and suspended him from politics for 7 years.
The bulk of the prosecution’s case had rested on the testimony of its key witness, the government informant, who alleged that Rep. Lee and other members of the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) led an underground subversive organization called ‘Revolutionary Organization’ (RO). The High Court, ruled, however, his testimony amounted to no more than speculation and lacked objective credibility.
In its judgment, the Court wrote that in order to establish that a ‘conspiracy’ had taken place, the prosecution has to show more than just an expression of intent and that it has to clearly demonstrate the existence of a plan to commit a particular crime that poses an actual threat. In other words, Rep Lee’s speech alone, without actual consensus among the participants at the May 2013 meeting in question, cannot constitute a conspiracy for sedition.
The Court also ruled, however, that the articles confiscated from the defendants’ homes and offices through government raids in the fall of 2013 do constitute ‘articles of expressions of the enemy’ in violation of the National Security Law.
The families of defendants, who had sat patiently in the courtroom during the two hours that the Court read its decision, broke down as soon as the defendants stood up to exit at the end of the proceeding. Approximately 150 UPP members and supporters, who had packed the courtroom, applauded and waved their hands at the defendants but their expressions were solemn and some wiped tears from their faces.
UPP Representative Lee Jeong-hee, who had attended the proceeding as one of the defense counsels, announced, “I proclaim that with today’s ruling, the National Intelligence Service’ and the Park Geun-hye government’s argument that an underground subversive organization called RO exists and that 130 UPP members conspired to overthrow the government – purely made up to red bait and undermine our party – completely disintegrated into thin air.”
“All charges will surely be dropped in the Supreme Court,” said Lee, referring to the next step in the legal battle, and pledged, “UPP will continue to fight to abolish the National Security Law and reclaim democracy to bring back a more democratic society for the people and an era of North-South reconciliation and peace.”
UPP faces the double hurdle of defending Rep Lee and his co-defendants, as well as the party itself from the government’s attempt to dissolve it in the Constitutional Court.
Below is a translation of a Hankyoreh article about the impact of today’s court ruling on the Constitutional Court case that will determine the fate of UPP.
RO Does not Exist…What Does this Mean for the Unified Progressive Party?
Court Rules “Lee Seok-ki Not Guilty of Rebellion Conspiracy”… Rejects Existence of ‘Revolutionary Organization’
Debunks Rationale for Petition to Dissolve Unified Progressive Party…May Impact Constitutional Court Verdict
The August 11 ruling of the Seoul High Court 9th Criminal Division (Presiding Judge Lee Min-geol), which found Representative Lee Seok-ki not guilty on the charge of sedition conspiracy, may have an impact on the Constitutional Court trial on the government’s petition to dissolve the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) on charges of violating the constitution. Although the Constitutional Court maintains that the criminal trial against Representative Lee and the case against UPP are separate matters, key evidence presented by the government to back up its constitutional violation allegation is the same in both cases.
Today’s verdict in the appeals trial debunks the rationale of the Justice Ministry, which requested the trial for UPP’s dissolution. Since the beginning of the case, the Ministry of Justice’s key evidence against UPP has been the alleged unconstitutionality of ‘RO’, the so-called ‘Revolutionary Organization’ mentioned in the sedition conspiracy case. UPP, it argued, is an organization directly influenced by RO, which was accused of the crime of sedition conspiracy; RO members, it alleged, are directly involved in the party’s decision-making. Among so-called confirmed members of RO, according to the Justice Ministry, 80-90% of them are allegedly UPP members, and thus, it argued, the two organizations share the same decision-making structure. In other words, it argued, ‘UPP’s core = RO members,’ and therefore UPP must be dissolved.
But today, the Court ruled, “The existence of RO has not been established beyond reasonable doubt.” In other words, Representative Lee may have acted on his own to ‘incite an insurrection’ but there is no such organization that poses a threat significant enough to justify the charge of sedition conspiracy.
“The Ministry of Justice argued the unconstitutionality of UPP based on the rationale that ‘RO’ allegedly used UPP as its front organization and led its decision-making,” saidAttorney Ko Yun-deok of Lawyers for a Democratic Society, “The rejection of the existence of RO in the appeals trial will likely have an impact on the Constitutional Court’s verdict.” Among the Constitutional Court’s list of seven key questions in its deliberation of the UPP case are ‘What, among RO activities, can be considered UPP activities,’ and ‘Whether or not the ‘RO incident’ can be considered part of UPP activity’.
It has also been reported that in its deliberation, the Constitutional Court is giving great weight to the record of the appeals trial that just came to a close. “The UPP case is different from the criminal case against Representative Lee in that a completely different standard of judgment applies,” said a Constitutional Court official, but added, “The judiciary’s determination of facts will inevitably impact the UPP case to some degree.” The Defense will make its 12th oral argument in the Constitutional Court on August 12.