The opposition lawmaker who set off a tear gas canister during a parliamentary vote Tuesday on the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement faced harsh criticism Thursday, but no action was taken to hold him legally responsible.
The National Assembly Secretariat said that it was “considering” legal action against Rep. Kim Sun-dong, a member of the far-left Democratic Labor Party.
But a high-ranking official there said that without political consensus it would not be easy to take such an action against the legislator.
“We’re reviewing legal clauses regarding the unfortunate incident involving tear gas,” said Han Jong-tae, its spokesperson.
Rep. Kim, a former student activist, set off tear gas inside the main parliamentary chamber, where Grand National Party lawmakers were poised to ram the long-stalled FTA bill through using its majority. The attack halted the voting session for about 20 minutes, but failed to thwart the ballot itself. The FTA was ratified 151-7.
He said later that he wanted to “make the National Assembly shed tears,” when endorsing a deal that would ruin the livelihoods of farmers and devastate the local services industry.
Rep. Kim could be charged with contempt of parliament or special obstruction of public duty, according to the parliamentary secretariat. Possession of tear gas is also illegal, it said.
Contempt of parliament is punishable by up to 3 years in jail and a fine of up to 7 million won. Special obstruction of public duty carries a harsher penalty of a maximum four and a half years’ imprisonment.
Another secretariat official said, however, that it would be hard for it to put the plan into action, without strong backing from the ruling Grand National Party.
The GNP is unlikely to lead any action against Rep. Kim, risking any chance of stirring public backlash after its unilateral passage of the contentious trade deal.
It wants the parliamentary secretariat or the office of the National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae to be the one that brings legal action against Rep. Kim.
“(Whether to take legal steps against Rep. Kim) is a decision to be made by the secretary-general of the National Assembly or the National Assembly Speaker, not me,” said Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, the GNP chairman.
He also expressed doubts about referring the lawmaker to a parliamentary disciplinary committee, saying it could lead to another round of partisan wrangling.
In its official press statement, the conservative party strongly denounced Rep. Kim, saying that he “no longer qualifies to be a member of the National Assembly.”
The main opposition Democratic Party, however, pointed its finger at the GNP for the melee.
“What happened inside the parliamentary chamber Tuesday was caused by the GNP’s decision to ram through the FTA bill,” said Rep. Lee Yong-sub, its spokesman.
Retired legislators condemned Rep. Kim for the tear gas attack and said he should be held legally responsible for his action.
Police said the tear gas canister detonated by Rep. Kim was manufactured in 1985 for use by police. It is unknown as of yet how the lawmaker came to possess it.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org