The trial began Monday for former and incumbent lawmakers of the then-main opposition Liberty Korea Party in connection with a mass brawl that broke out inside the National Assembly in April 2019 over the fast-tracking of major reform bills.
Hwang Kyo-ahn, the Liberty Korea Party’s former chief, and Na Kyung-won, its former floor leader, denied all charges, denouncing the indictment as politically motivated and defending their actions as legitimate resistance against “unconstitutional” bills.
The prosecution in January indicted 24 lawmakers and four aides from the Liberty Korea Party on charges of obstructing justice, breaching parliamentary law and causing a disturbance after a fight erupted in the National Assembly in April in the process of submitting the contentious bills.
The accused clashed with lawmakers from the Democratic Party of Korea and smaller opposition parties as they attempted to physically block the bills from being submitted at the parliamentary office.
Former Liberty Korea Party chief Hwang said that inaction to stop the unjust laws from going through would have been dereliction of duty and a betrayal of the country.
“The bills put on the fast track at the time were designed to distort values of fairness and justice,” Hwang said during the hearing in the afternoon, referring to the bills on creating an independent body to investigate corruption involving high-ranking officials and on overhauling the election system.
The first hearing was divided into three sections, all held Monday, to maintain distance among the accused due to coronavirus concerns.
Na said what they had done was a show of resistance, as the main opposition party was in a situation where minority opinions could be dismissed by the majority.
“I feel devastated that what happened at the parliament became the subject of a trial,” Na said at the hearing in the morning, asking who would, as an opposition lawmaker, fight back against the administration and against injustice if resistors were brought to trial.
“I hope this trial can set an example for liberal democracy that upholds constitutional values and protects the parliament’s autonomy and independence,” she said.
One of the disputed bills dealt with setting up an independent body tasked with investigating and indicting high-ranking officials suspected of corruption, one of President Moon Jae-in’s key pledges, to curb the prosecution’s power. Another contentious bill was introduced to increase proportional representation seats in the parliament.
The Liberty Korea Party, which has since changed its name twice -- to the United Future Party in mid-February through a merger with minor conservative parties and then to the People Power Party earlier this month -- opposed both bills, arguing that the new election system was unconstitutional and the investigative body could be exploited by the president.