Alleged plotters remain tight-lipped in custody

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Alleged plotters remain tight-lipped in custody

Three days into a grilling by the National Intelligence Service, Lee Seok-ki of the Unified Progressive Party, who is being detained on charges of fomenting a plot to overthrow the government, has reportedly refused to answer questions from interrogators.

Lee, now stripped of his parliamentary immunity, is one of several alleged insurrectionists who have refused to answer questions. Other members of the UPP factional group called the Revolutionary Organization who are being detained have also exercised their right to remain silent.

Law enforcement officials expect other members of the pro-Pyongyang group - who will be summoned for questioning starting today - will follow suit.

Remaining silent has become a common tactic among those who have faced national security charges since the early 2000s.

That is a change from the 1980s, when security detainees represented themselves, usually vigorously, when questioned by the authoritarian governments of that era.

Law enforcement bodies here say the change may stem from suggestions by North Korea on tactics, although many of those 1980s-era dissidents would bridle at being accused of being Pyongyang’s pawns rather than democracy fighters.

“In the 1990s, Pyongyang delivered a manual on compromising government investigations into pro-North groups, in which the North advised suspects to remain silent and manipulate evidence that could be used in their favor at trial,” said a prosecutor who specializes in national security laws, asking not to be named.

Kim Deok-yong, who stood a trial in 2011 for having received orders from Pyongyang and carrying them out in the South on behalf of the Communist state, also stayed mute throughout his questioning.

The Supreme Court earlier this year confirmed the seven-year prison term handed down by a lower court that convicted him.

Lee has a personal history of exercising his right to remain silent. When he was arrested in 2002 on charges of espionage for North Korea, Lee kept mute throughout the questioning. He was sentenced to two years and six months in prison and released on parole in August 2003. He was pardoned in August 2005.

The detained lawmaker also remained silent when he was investigated last year on suspicion of involvement in rigging the UPP’s party vote to select proportional representation seats in the National Assembly.

Some legal experts believe the often-used tactic could backfire in court.

“If evidence presented by prosecutors is solid and proves suspects indeed committed hostile acts,” said Roh Hwan-gyun, a former prosecutor now in private practice, “a defendant could receive a harsher penalty if he exercises the right to remain silent. A judge would interpret their use of that right as a sign that they are not atoning for their acts.”

BY LEE DONG-HYUN, KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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