Final arguments made in case to outlaw the UPP

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Final arguments made in case to outlaw the UPP

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Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, left, and Lee Jung-hee, right, chairwoman of the Unified Progressive Party (UPP), prepare their final arguments at the Constitutional Court on Tuesday over the case of whether to dissolve the UPP. [NEWSIS]

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday heard closing arguments from the Ministry of Justice and the Unified Progressive Party (UPP), the final step before it decides on the Park Geun-hye administration’s motion to disband the opposition political party.

Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and UPP Chairwoman Lee Jung-hee gave their final arguments in the afternoon.

“The UPP is a cancer that wants to destroy the Republic of Korea from the inside,” Hwang said. “We must no longer hesitate to perform surgery to remove this cancer.”

“We were never manipulated by North Korea’s orders,” Lee said. “A political party cannot be dissolved based on mere speculation and suspicions.”

The unprecedented lawsuit started on Nov. 5, 2013, after the Park administration asked the Constitutional Court to disband the third-largest party in the National Assembly for its alleged links to North Korea. Earlier last year, Rep. Lee Seok-ki and other senior members of the UPP were convicted of treason in a separate but related case. Lee appealed his convictions and the case is still pending in the Supreme Court.

After the Park government made the first-ever legal action to dissolve a political party, the Constitutional Court reviewed the case for more than a year. The court heard opening arguments from Justice Minister Hwang and UPP Chairwoman Lee Jung-hee on Jan. 28 this year, and 18 hearings were held to listen to testimonies by many witnesses.

“If the purposes or activities of a political party are contrary to the fundamental democratic order, the government may bring an action against it in the Constitutional Court for its dissolution, and the political party shall be dissolved in accordance with the decision of the Constitutional Court,” Clause 4 of Article 8 of the Korean Constitution states.

Throughout the hearings, the ministry argued that the UPP is a political party created by the remnants of the antistate People’s Revolutionary Party that followed North Korea’s Juche, or self-reliance ideology.

The UPP said it was a party founded by liberals to speak for the “ordinary people” such as laborers and farmers. The ministry argued that the party’s “progressive democracy” is in line with the North’s strategy to revolutionize the South.

The UPP said the concept was introduced through internal discussions and had nothing to do with North Korea.

The ministry also argued that UPP members including Rep. Lee Seok-ki attempted to overthrow the South’s liberal democracy. The UPP countered that the actions of some of its members cannot be grounds to judge the constitutionality of an entire political party.

The ministry also said the party has promoted the abolishment of the National Security Law and withdrawal of U.S. troops, which jibe with Pyongyang’s positions. The UPP said just because it made similar arguments to that of the North, it doesn’t mean that the party had violated the democratic order.

A key witness for the Justice Ministry was Kim Young-hwan, a former student activist who once promoted the North’s Juche ideology in the South and is now working to improve human rights in North Korea. He testified on Oct. 21 that two lawmakers of the UPP had operated campaigns for the 1995 general election with North Korea’s money. The two lawmakers later denied the charges.

A key in the unprecedented legal battle is whether the UPP’s constitution and party platform are consistent with North Korea’s constitution, and whether or not its activities were against basic democratic principles.

The court is supposed to hand down a ruling within 180 days of receiving a petition, but it has not set a date for its ruling. The deadline, which the court interprets as merely an advisory, already passed months ago.

Justice Park Han-chul, president of the Constitutional Court, told the National Assembly in an audit last month that the ruling may possibly be made before the end of this year. Earlier in the morning, the court held a final evidentiary hearing on evidence submitted by both sides since Nov. 4.

Shortly before the final arguments, the UPP held a meeting of four lawmakers who criticized the Park government’s attempt to dissolve their party. Its fifth lawmaker is Lee Seok-ki, who is currently in detention.

The lawmakers and UPP leaders also held a series of single-person protests around Seoul to encourage the public to support their party.

The ruling Saenuri Party yesterday criticized the UPP’s move, saying it should refrain from any act that could influence the Constitutional Court’s deliberations.

While the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy did not issue a statement, Rep. Moon Jae-in, a key leader, said the court must make a careful judgment. “Even if some UPP members acted against the law, whether that should be an immediate reason to dissolve the party must be decided very carefully, especially if the actions did not represent the party or its intention,” he said.

Over the past year, the ministry and the UPP submitted 167,000 pages of documents before the judges as evidence. The Constitutional Court does not have an electronic litigation system.

The papers weighed 888 kilograms in total (close to 2,000 pounds) and were 18 meters high (59 feet) when stacked. Each judge had to read 433 pages every day for the past 385 days since the motion was submitted. The ministry said earlier this year it once used three one-ton trucks to ship 126 boxes of documents.

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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