The Seoul High Court announced its ruling today in the appeals trial of the Lee Seok-ki et al ‘sedition conspiracy’ case.  The Court found Representative Lee Seok-ki and his co-defendants ‘not guilty’ on the most serious charge of sedition conspiracy, but upheld the lower court’s ruling on the charges of ‘inciting an insurrection’ and national security law violation.

The Court reduced Rep. Lee’s previous sentence of 12 years to 9 years and suspended him from politics for 7 years.

The bulk of the prosecution’s case had rested on the testimony of its key witness, the government informant, who alleged that Rep. Lee and other members of the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) led an underground subversive organization called ‘Revolutionary Organization’ (RO).   The High Court, ruled, however, his testimony amounted to no more than speculation and lacked objective credibility.

In its judgment, the Court wrote that in order to establish that a ‘conspiracy’ had taken place, the prosecution has to show more than just an expression of intent and that it has to clearly demonstrate the existence of a plan to commit a particular crime that poses an actual threat.  In other words, Rep Lee’s speech alone, without actual consensus among the participants at the May 2013 meeting in question, cannot constitute a conspiracy for sedition.

The Court also ruled, however, that the articles confiscated from the defendants’ homes and offices through government raids in the fall of 2013 do constitute ‘articles of expressions of the enemy’ in violation of the National Security Law.

The families of defendants, who had sat patiently in the courtroom during the two hours that the Court read its decision, broke down as soon as the defendants stood up to exit at the end of the proceeding.  Approximately 150 UPP members and supporters, who had packed the courtroom, applauded and waved their hands at the defendants but their expressions were solemn and some wiped tears from their faces.

UPP Representative Lee Jeong-hee, who had attended the proceeding as one of the defense counsels, announced, “I proclaim that with today’s ruling, the National Intelligence Service’ and the Park Geun-hye government’s argument that an underground subversive organization called RO exists and that 130 UPP members conspired to overthrow the government – purely made up to red bait and undermine our party – completely disintegrated into thin air.”

“All charges will surely be dropped in the Supreme Court,” said Lee, referring to the next step in the legal battle, and pledged, “UPP will continue to fight to abolish the National Security Law and reclaim democracy to bring back a more democratic society for the people and an era of North-South reconciliation and peace.”

UPP faces the double hurdle of defending Rep Lee and his co-defendants, as well as the party itself from the government’s attempt to dissolve it in the Constitutional Court.

Below is a translation of a Hankyoreh article about the impact of today’s court ruling on the Constitutional Court case that will determine the fate of UPP.

Hankyoreh, August 11, 2014

RO Does not Exist…What Does this Mean for the Unified Progressive Party?

Court Rules “Lee Seok-ki Not Guilty of Rebellion Conspiracy”… Rejects Existence of ‘Revolutionary Organization’

Debunks Rationale for Petition to Dissolve Unified Progressive Party…May Impact Constitutional Court Verdict

The August 11 ruling of the Seoul High Court 9th Criminal Division (Presiding Judge Lee Min-geol), which found Representative Lee Seok-ki not guilty on the charge of sedition conspiracy, may have an impact on the Constitutional Court trial on the government’s petition to dissolve the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) on charges of violating the constitution.  Although the Constitutional Court maintains that the criminal trial against Representative Lee and the case against UPP are separate matters, key evidence presented by the government to back up its constitutional violation allegation is the same in both cases.

Today’s verdict in the appeals trial debunks the rationale of the Justice Ministry, which requested the trial for UPP’s dissolution.  Since the beginning of the case, the Ministry of Justice’s key evidence against UPP has been the alleged unconstitutionality of ‘RO’, the so-called ‘Revolutionary Organization’ mentioned in the sedition conspiracy case.  UPP, it argued, is an organization directly influenced by RO, which was accused of the crime of sedition conspiracy; RO members, it alleged, are directly involved in the party’s decision-making.  Among so-called confirmed members of RO, according to the Justice Ministry, 80-90% of them are allegedly UPP members, and thus, it argued, the two organizations share the same decision-making structure.  In other words, it argued, ‘UPP’s core = RO members,’ and therefore UPP must be dissolved.

But today, the Court ruled, “The existence of RO has not been established beyond reasonable doubt.”  In other words, Representative Lee may have acted on his own to ‘incite an insurrection’ but there is no such organization that poses a threat significant enough to justify the charge of sedition conspiracy.

“The Ministry of Justice argued the unconstitutionality of UPP based on the rationale that ‘RO’ allegedly used UPP as its front organization and led its decision-making,” saidAttorney Ko Yun-deok of Lawyers for a Democratic Society, “The rejection of the existence of RO in the appeals trial will likely have an impact on the Constitutional Court’s verdict.”  Among the Constitutional Court’s list of seven key questions in its deliberation of the UPP case are ‘What, among RO activities, can be considered UPP activities,’ and ‘Whether or not the ‘RO incident’ can be considered part of UPP activity’.

It has also been reported that in its deliberation, the Constitutional Court is giving great weight to the record of the appeals trial that just came to a close.  “The UPP case is different from the criminal case against Representative Lee in that a completely different standard of judgment applies,” said a Constitutional Court official, but added, “The judiciary’s determination of facts will inevitably impact the UPP case to some degree.”  The Defense will make its 12th oral argument in the Constitutional Court on August 12.