South Korea’s parliament yesterday approved the arrest of a leftist lawmaker accused of plotting an armed insurrection in support of Pyongyang.
In a rare show of cooperation, rival political parties joined forces to pass a motion allowing the arrest of sitting United Progress Party (UPP) Legislator Lee Seok-ki on charges of sedition.
Of the 289 lawmakers who took part in the vote, 258 said yes, 14 said no, 11 abstained and six other votes were nullified.
Hundreds of police, including riot officers carrying shields, stood guard outside the National Assembly as the vote was under way, with riot vans forming a blockade across access roads and a water canon atop an armored vehicle.
About 200 members of the minor opposition UPP staged a sit-down protest on the steps leading to the doors of the assembly building, chanting slogans accusing the National Intelligence Service (NIS) of fabricating the charges.
South Korean Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn told lawmakers that in May Lee — believing war with the North was imminent — told his secretive leftist group to prepare for attacks on South Korea’s communication lines and railways.
Lee told his colleagues he was the victim of a “savage and irrational witch hunt” led by the country’s secret police and fanned by the conservative news media.
“They may jail me for a while, but steps toward independence, peace and democracy will never falter,” Lee told parliament.
As a lawmaker, Lee would ordinarily be immune from arrest while the assembly is in session, meaning his detention was subject to parliamentary consent.
His arrest was not expected immediately as parliament must first complete the necessary documentary procedures.
The request for arrest approval was made by the government and the main opposition Democratic Party had earlier indicated it would support the ruling conservatives in passing the motion.
“We’ll never tolerate anyone who is willing to fight on the side of the enemy in the event of a war,” said Kim Han-gil, head of the Democratic Party.
The NIS on Wednesday last week raided UPP party offices and arrested three of Lee’s supporters on charges of seeking to instigate an armed insurrection in support of North Korea.
Lee reacted by describing the sedition charges as “sheer fabrication.”
Sedition charges have been extremely rare since South Korea introduced democratic elections in the late 1980s and political analysts suggested the timing of the NIS action was likely to raise eyebrows.
A statement from the UPP denounced what it called a joint campaign by the presidential Blue House and the NIS to cloud the issue of an election-rigging scandal that has spawned large candle-light street protests in Seoul in recent weeks. The scandal has seen the arrest of former NIS head Won Sei-hoon for allegedly ordering agents to run an online smear campaign against opposition presidential candidate Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party.