Aug. 11. (photo pool)
By Kim Seon-sik, staff reporter
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
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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