Tread carefully with grave charges

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Tread carefully with grave charges

The intelligence agency and prosecutors have launched an investigation of a sitting lawmaker and three members of the small, left-leaning Unified Progressive Party on charges of violating national security laws and conspiring to subvert the state. The investigation must be accurate and fast in view of the ramifications of the possible arrest of an incumbent member of the Assembly on the rare charge of attempting to provoke social unrest and an armed rebellion on behalf of North Korea.

Agents from the National Intelligence Service, with the help of prosecutors, raided the offices and house of Rep. Lee Seok-gi of the UPP and arrested three members of the party’s Gyeonggi provincial branch. Lee, who won a proportional Assembly seat in April 2012, allegedly said at a meeting of the pro-North Korea Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance, “We must orchestrate nationwide strikes and armed rebellion when the right time arrives to help North Korea.” In his remarks, which were reportedly recorded, he also told the group to secure arms for use in case of an emergency.

This is the first time an incumbent lawmaker has been charged with violating the national security law and conspiracy to foment rebellion. Lee’s presence in the Assembly has been an issue of concern and controversy because he is among the ringleaders of the Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance. He is also currently in a court battle over charges that he fabricated campaign fund reports that resulted in public funding of his campaign. But conspiring to raise an armed rebellion to occupy broadcasting stations and sabotage communications network is a crime of an entirely different scale. It is scarcely believable that he told his members to arm themselves.

A conviction for instigating a rebellion carries serious legal penalties, beginning with a prison term of three years or more. Law enforcement and intelligence officials probably have built enough evidence against the suspects to convince a judge to issue warrants. If the suspects can confidently claim innocence, they should cooperate fully with the investigations. The UPP members’ attempts to stop the raid were clearly interference with law enforcement activities. Lee’s aides are also suspected of having destroyed documents and electronic files before the search.

The NIS and the prosecution must carry out their investigation carefully, thoroughly and scrupulously, especially given the grave nature of the charges. In past eras, several people facing such charges were exonerated after a retrial. The authorities must be extra prudent to avoid the appearance of abusing their power. The NIS and the prosecution, as well as the suspects, should be honest and sincere to bring the truth to light.

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