Court reduces jail terms for S. Koreans spying for N. Korea

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Court reduces jail terms for S. Koreans spying for N. Korea

A Seoul appellate court on Friday decreased prison terms for five South Koreans who organized an underground anti-state organization linked to North Korea and spied for the communist state.

The Seoul High Court delivered a seven-year prison term to a 50-year-old man, surnamed Kim, for collecting intelligence on Seoul's political affairs and handing it over to the North. The ruling is lighter than the imprisonment of nine years given by a lower court.

The court also decreased prison terms that range from four to five years for three others and delivered a suspended term for the fifth person on the same charges.

"Stern punishment is inevitable as (the defendants) collected information that could threaten the national security by cooperating with the North Korean spies," Judge Seong Kee-moon said in his ruling.

The five were convicted of meeting Pyongyang agents overseas and monitoring and collecting intelligence on the political circle as well as the latest moves by an array of pro-North activist groups, court records said.

The judge, however, took into consideration that the state secrets collected by the five are not significant enough to cause a severe threat to national security.

The Seoul High Court also upheld the lower court ruling and cleared the five people of charges of setting up the espionage organization called "Wangjaesan."

They were arrested and indicted in 2011 on charges of breaking South Korea's National Security Law by engaging in espionage and communicating with the enemy.

Spying for North Korea is a crime in South Korea that carries the death penalty as a maximum sentence since the two countries remains technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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