Release the Jailed Progressive Activists in South Korea!
Will Griffin and I today had a very instructive and moving meeting with two members of the international support team of the Korean Committee to Save Rep. Lee Seok-ki.
One of those who met with us was Han Dong-geun, who himself was released from prison last year after a two-year sentence.
A South Korean court sentenced Seok-ki, a left-wing lawmaker, to 12 years in prison and nine colleagues to shorter terms for allegedly plotting a "pro-North Korea rebellion in the event of a war on the Korean Peninsula".
Prosecutors also asked judges to strip United Progressive Party (UPP) Member of Parliament Lee Seok-ki of his civic rights for 10 years following his eventual release from prison. The UPP was a small party with only six seats in the National Assembly.
In South Korea it is illegal under the "National Security Law”, which was created by the occupying Japanese WW II imperial Army, to criticize US military bases in that country or to call for reunification between North and South Korea.
Lee Seok-ki has described himself as the victim of a “witch hunt” by South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS). Many believe the NIS used the show trial to distract the public from overwhelming evidence that the intelligence agency interfered in the last national election in favor of right-wing President Park Geun-hye's "successful" campaign.
President Park is the daughter of former brutal dictator Park Chung-hee. During Park’s iron-fisted rule from 1961 to 1979, dissidents were tortured and sometimes executed on charges of "plotting" against South Korea. While on previous trips to South Korea I met several older activists who spent as many as 20-25 years in prison for opposing the first Park dictatorship.
Both the past and present Park regimes in Seoul were and still are obvious US puppets.
More than 100,000 South Koreans belonged to the UPP before it was banned following the jailing of Seok-ki and the other party members.
After appealing their sentences to the Korean Supreme Court the charges of "insurrection" were dropped but lesser charges remained that are keeping the activists in prison. The Supreme Court agreed that the UPP members were not engaged in any violent overthrow of the government.
The initial charges all stemmed from a 90-minute lecture by Seok-ki three years ago entitled "How to achieve peace on the Korean peninsula". A spy within the UPP, who had befriended Han Dong-geun 20 years before, taped the speech which the government used as 'evidence' during the trial of the party members who were ultimately jailed.
The NIS manipulated the tape recording by taking out some words and inserting 700 new words in order to make the governments case against the UPP. Eventually the NIS had to admit they had monkeyed with the tape.
Religious leaders from five leading denominations throughout South Korea came to the defense of the jailed UPP leaders and the Jimmy Carter Center called for their release.
International solidarity is required to help relieve pressure on the progressive movement in South Korea today. In September the Seok-ki support committee will do a tour of North America making stops in Chicago, New York, Toronto and other major cities.
During his time in prison Han Dong-geun was confined to a tiny cell for 23 hours a day, only able to see the sun for one hour. But he told us he didn't feel isolated because of the strong support he received from supporters on the outside.
At the end of our meeting I said that I've long felt South Korean activists are currently experiencing the kind of repressive treatment that activists in the US will be facing in the coming years. I remarked that I believe American activists should be paying attention to, and learning from, the current struggles of our Korean friends as they fight back to protect their democratic and human rights that are steadily being taken from them.
The National Security Law says it is illegal to call for US military bases in South Korea to be closed or to call for the reunification of Korea. It is also illegal to say that you want North and South Korea to "make a peace agreement" because that is the same position that the government in the North takes.
The Korean War is officially not over - there was only an Armistice signed but the US is the one that refuses still to this day to negotiate a full peace treaty with North Korea. I think the reason is obvious. As long as no peace treaty exists the US can justify its massive military presence in Korea which in the end is aimed at China and Russia as much, if not more, than aimed at North Korea.
There is no doubt in my mind that South Korean progressives would not be jailed unless the US government wanted the puppet regime in Seoul to do so. Can we in America not understand that some day very soon this same treatment will fall on our shoulders as well? Now is the time to speak out and resist this growing corporate fascism that is gripping the entire world.
Han Dong-geun handed Will and I a booklet entitled, "As he is not free, I am not free." Those words pretty much sum it all up in a nutshell.