by Yoo Seungki
SEOUL, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- A group of investigators raided homes and offices of a minor opposition lawmaker on Aug. 28 on charges of conspiring to subvert the government. A week later, the South Korean parliament passed a bill to allow the arrest of Rep. Lee Seok-ki of the left-leaning Unified Progressive Party (UPP).
Lee was arrested, becoming the first South Korean lawmaker to face detention on treason charges while in office. Nine other UPP executives suffered from the raid, and three of them were arrested on the rebellion conspiracy charges.
Last Friday, UPP leader Lee Jung-hee held a press conference for foreign correspondents in Seoul to explain "the truth behind the Lee Seok-ki case," calling it "revival of McCarthyism" and " retrogressing to the Yushin dictatorship."
The Yushin era came in the 1970s when Park Chung-hee, the late military strongman and father of President Park Geun-hye, ruled with the amended constitution, called "Yushin," that banned political party activities and restricted basic human rights under the martial law.
Political opponents were suppressed during the era through espionage and treason charges fabricated by the spy agency, which were exonerated in retrials decades later. Former President Kim Dae-jung was sentenced in 1980 to death on the same charge, but he was acquitted in a 2004 retrial.
UPP chairwoman Lee said that her party was denounced as blind followers of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
She warned the South Korean society was in an abnormal state of extreme anti-communism as seen in the United States in the 1950s when a Republic senator pursued allegations of treason and subversion without proper evidence.
Rep. Lee Seok-ki said that the intelligence agency mobilized conservative media outlets for "a medieval witch hunt" against his party and party members without any single clue to prove the charges, and Chairwoman Lee stressed that the preposterous case would be found fabricated within six months through the court ruling.
Despite their claim of innocence, conservative news media described Rep. Lee as one of the most dangerous pro-Pyongyang figures who were involved in forming an anti-governmental organization named National Democratic Revolution Party. The underground group's existence was revealed under the presidency of Kim Dae-jung.
Rep. Lee had been reportedly on the run since Aug. 1999 when details on the organization were brought to light. He was arrested in May 2002 and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, before being pardoned in Aug. 2003 under former President Roh Moo- hyun. Lee Sang-kyu, chairman of the UPP policy committee, told reporters that the case was also fabricated by the National Intelligence Service (NIS).
After winning a parliamentary seat in April last year as a proportional representative, Lee entered the mainstream political circle, but he was discredited with alleged vote-rigging in the primary. It sparked bitter factional feuds within the UPP, leading four co-leaders of the party to step down en masse. Lee snubbed calls for his resignation as he was not indicted by the prosecution.
Even progressive media turned their back to Rep. Lee and the UPP. A liberal newspaper Hankyoreh depicted Rep. Lee and his party members as youth utopianists full of dissatisfaction with the regime, while SisaIn, a progressive magazine, described them as megalomaniacs.
The criticism stemmed from conversations at a May 12 meeting, which the UPP claimed was Rep. Lee's lecture to 130 party members. The spy agency viewed it as the gathering of underground dissidents, named Revolutionary Organization (RO), who plotted an armed rebellion in case of war with the DPRK.
According to a transcript allegedly obtained by the NIS, Rep. Lee said that political and military preparations should be made for an imminent war on the Korean peninsula given the reality that guns (armed force) were sometimes favored more than flowers ( peaceful measures).
His comments came amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the DPRK's third nuclear test in February, Pyongyang's declaration in March of nullifying the ceasefire that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and its announcement of restarting the Yongbyon nuclear complex in April.
Lee Sang-ho, one of participants who was arrested, suggested attacking major infrastructures such as communications, train and oil storage, while asserting the need to learn how to manufacture homemade bombs and re-assemble a gas-propelled gun into a firearm on the Internet.
But the UPP said that the transcript was distorted by the NIS.
Rep. Lee merely gave a lecture to explain the Korean peninsula on the verge of a war and suggest preparations for peace at the gathering, the party leader said, noting that the underground group, called RO by the spy agency was a mere fictional organization created by the NIS imagination and false statements by the NIS-bribed informant.
Playing truth or dare between the UPP and the NIS black-holed all other issues from the public attention. It raised suspicions that the intelligence agency could have concocted the rebellion case to divert public attention from its alleged interference with last year's presidential election.
After two months of investigation, prosecutors concluded in mid- June that former NIS chief ordered his agents to conduct online smear campaign against opposition presidential candidates under the pretext of fight against pro-DPRK groups.
The ball was in the court of prosecutors, which could determine who told the truth, but the top prosecutor offered to resign last Friday following allegations that he fathered a child through an extramarital affair, which the country's largest conservative daily Chosun Ilbo reported a week earlier.
Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook denied the allegation, saying he was willing to conduct a DNA testing to confirm blood relationship.
Regardless of the resignation, legal experts said prosecutors would fail to punish Rep. Lee on rebellion charges as it may be hard to prove any physical power or concrete plan of the aforementioned underground organization.
Rep. Lee and other party members may be found not guilty, but they revealed themselves as strangers with no perception that they belong to the same community with other South Korean people, commented weekly magazine SisaIn, pointing to their intent to destroy where their neighbors live at the May 12 meeting.