KOREA - Calls are growing among the conservatives to have leftist lawmaker Rep. Lee Seok-ki expelled from the National Assembly and his Unified Progressive Party dissolved, as the authorities zero in on the alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government.
The ruling Saenuri Party is reportedly moving to submit a request to strip Lee off his lawmaker status with the Assembly's Ethics Committee.
The committee is separately slated to review Lee's qualification along with those of his colleague Rep. Kim Jae-yeon on Sept. 16 concerning their alleged political responsibility in the UPP's in-house vote rigging last year.
"We must quickly submit the disciplinary action (separate from the review) for this earth-shattering case of conspiracy to rebel," Saenuri Rep. Shim Jae-cheol said during the party meeting. The submission needs support from at least 30 lawmakers.
Lee is currently accused of forming an underground group known as the "Revolutionary Organisation" and devising with some 130 members in their covert May 12 meeting plans to destroy key infrastructure facilities in the South in the event of an inter-Korean war. He is also suspected of violating the National Security Act by praising or making comments in support of North Korea during meetings in March and August last year.
Just hours after the Assembly overwhelmingly voted on Wednesday to approve the prosecutors' request to arrest him, the National Intelligence Service detained him in an unusually speedy manner citing risk of flight. Lee appeared before the court the next morning for the review of his arrest.
As the probe quickly picked up pace, conservative groups upped their calls for the dissolution of the UPP.
A total of 10 associations of defectors from North Korea on Thursday jointly filed a complaint with the Justice Ministry to move for the break-up of the UPP.
"Before the expulsion of Lee Seok-ki as a lawmaker or his arrest, the UPP must first dissolve. It is the duty of the (justice) minister to disband the UPP that challenges the legal system for sake of normalizing the state," they said. Their demands for the UPP's demobilization have been filed several times since June 2004.
They cite Clause 4 of Article 8 of the Constitution that states if the purposes or activities of a political party contradict the fundamental democratic order, the government may bring an action in the Constitutional Court for its dissolution. No such action has been filed by the government.
Other groups such as Young's Liberty Union took to the streets to gather signatures calling for the UPP's dissolution and the expulsion of Lee and Kim.
The NIS has so far completed a search and seizure at 18 offices and homes, detained three UPP members and plans to summon six other left-leaning activists to question the activities of the RO and its possible connection with North Korea. They believe the transcript of the recorded remarks by Lee during the May meeting will serve as decisive evidence. Lee and the UPP, however, claim the transcript has been fabricated and deny the legitimacy of the records that were reportedly acquired through an inside source.
In order for the conspiracy to rebel charge to be valid, the authorities must prove that the involved parties discussed detailed plans such as funding and roles for the purpose of overthrowing the government and the Constitution.
The NIS is currently looking into the bank accounts and financial transactions of Lee to find any connection with North Korea as it is also crucial to prove any connection between RO and the North to identify the organisation as anti-state.
Some 300 members and supporters of the UPP, meanwhile, gathered in front of the Suwon District Court since early Thursday protesting the NIS' probe as political oppression. The party's chairwoman Lee Jung-hee, who is a former lawyer, also joined the 20-member legal representation for Lee.
The NIS has been seeking to arrest Lee, which would enable them to directly question him for up to 10 days. Once a suspect is handed over from the NIS after the 10-day period, the prosecutors will have up to 20 days for investigation before deciding on indictment.