|Rep. Lee Seok-ki reacts at the National Assembly after its vote on his arrest on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)|
The National Assembly on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the motion for the arrest of lawmaker Rep. Lee Seok-ki, suspected of conspiring in an armed revolt, giving the green light to a full-force probe by the National Intelligence Service against the leftist group.
Of the 289 attending lawmakers, 258 voted in approval while 14 disapproved and 11 abstained in the secret vote held at the one-point plenary session. Another six were counted as invalid.
Following the Assembly’s decision, Lee of the Unified Progressive Party is expected to be called in by the Suwon District Court to review his arrest by as early as Thursday afternoon.
Lee, whose arrest needed parliamentary consent as an incumbent lawmaker, has denied all charges including instigating and conspiring in an armed rebellion and forming an anti-state underground group known as the “Revolutionary Organization.”
The last parliamentary approval for an arrest of a lawmaker during session was for Rep. Hyun Young-hee, who was charged for nomination lobbying last September.
If Lee refuses to appear at court, the court can conduct the review for his arrest without his attendance if he continues to ignore the notification for 15 days.
Prior to the vote, Lee reiterated his innocence, saying, “Just as how all the manipulated revolt charges during the past authoritarian governments have been ruled innocent in retrials, the Assembly approving (my arrest) for charges that will be proven not guilty in just several months will remain as a major error for a long time,” Lee said. He denied all allegations by the NIS and accused the authorities of oppressing him without grounds and through the distortion of truth.
The major parties, with a total of 280 seats, as well as the minor Progressive Justice Party decided earlier in the day to pass the motion.
“The investigative authorities must swiftly and fairly investigate the unprecedented allegation of denying the system and conspiring to revolt to clarify the truth and punish any crime,” said Saenuri spokesman Yoo Il-ho.
DP floor leader Rep. Jun Byung-hun said, “The process at the Assembly has now completed. We will be watching the strictly fair decision of the judiciary,” adding that the DP would not tolerate any attempt to damage the Constitution and democracy.
The party, however, also warned against any attempt to politicize the probe, denouncing the Saenuri Party for their “attempt at new McCarthyism” by linking Lee with the DP’s political stance, and the questionable timing of the probe by the NIS.
The NIS has completed a search and seizure of 18 offices and homes, detained three UPP members and plans to summon six other left-leaning activists to question the activities of the Revolutionary Organization and its possible connection with North Korea.
Lee, in particular, is accused of forming the underground revolutionary group and instigating and conspiring with his colleagues to prepare for a war against the South Korean government should Pyongyang issue an order to attack upon its missile launch and nuclear test from 2012 to 2013. The Justice Ministry said the request to arrest Lee and other suspects was based on a comprehensive collection of testimonies, documents and other evidence.
The NIS is currently looking into the bank accounts and financial transactions of Lee, reports said.
The minor UPP protested against the authorities for instigating an ideological war.
UPP chairwoman Lee Jung-hee claimed that the remarks in question made during the secret RO meeting in May regarding a need to “secure firearms” and “blow up government facilities” if a clash with North Korea broke out, were nothing more than a joke, and that the NIS was attempting a public trial against them without grounds.
“Of the 130 attendants, one or two participants in the event mentioned such remarks and it is said that they were said as a joke and others laughed them off,” Lee said in a press briefing.
The legal representative of Lee and the UPP executives also held a press conference and said, “The NIS is playing politics in the name of their investigative rights.”
They accused the spy agency for leaking facts to the media that went against the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” arguing that that RO does not exist.
Political wrangling, meanwhile, is expected to continue over at the Assembly, as the Saenuri Party continues to throw invectives at the DP for “letting Lee in to the parliament” by aligning with the group in the general elections last year. Some of the party members also called for the responsibility of DP Rep. Moon Jae-in, former chief of staff during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, citing the presidential pardon on 2003 on Lee who was serving a jail term for National Security Act violation.
The DP shot back such attempts saying, “The Saenuri Party should not even dream of creating a new situation by using this case in hopes of avoiding the calls for NIS reform or the criticisms towards the ruling camp.” The party also hoped to highlight their disassociation with the UPP by deciding to approve Lee’s arrest motion without delay.
Police, meanwhile, dispatched 2,600 personned around the Assembly and blocked the entrances with police vehicles to prepare for any collision by protesters.
The Unification Ministry said they were looking into any past visits by individuals involved in the NIS probe to North Korea.
By Lee Joo-hee