South Korea Orders Arrest of Lawmaker Accused in Rebellion Plot

South Korea's United Progressive Party Member Lee Seok Ki
Lee Seok-Ki, a member of South Korea's United Progress Party, center, waves to supporters after a parliamentary vote on a government motion for his arrest on sedition charges outside the National Assembly building in Seoul on Sept. 4, 2013. Photographer: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

A South Korean court ordered the arrest of a lawmaker after he led meetings where fellow party members allegedly discussed plans to steal weapons and blow up infrastructure in the event of war with North Korea.

The Suwon District Court yesterday issued the order to arrest Lee Seok Ki, a member of the United Progressive Party, on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, court spokesman Lee Jung Won said by phone. Lee is already in custody over the allegations and hadn’t been formally arrested.

South Korea’s National Assembly lifted Lee’s immunity Sept. 4 amid the allegations raised by the National Intelligence Service. His party said that the alleged plot, discussed at a meeting in May, amounted to a joke by a handful of members.

“South Koreans find what the UPP did very laughable,” Seo Bok Kyeung, a researcher at the Sogang Institute of Political Studies in Seoul, said by phone. “At the same time, if the court eventually rules this is a rebellion, it could make people feel threatened about their rights.”

The allegation against Lee and his party has the effect of shifting public and media attention away from the National Intelligence Service’s alleged intervention in presidential elections last year, Lee Ho Chul, a political science professor at Incheon National University, said by phone.

Former NIS chief Won Sei Hoon is being tried on charges of meddling in last year’s elections in which Park Geun Hye won the presidency. Spy agents allegedly posted comments that criticized opposition figures and praised Park in a bid to influence the outcome.

Lee was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in 2003 for his role in a pro-North Korean organization. He was later pardoned. South Korean lawmakers tried and failed last year to oust him from parliament after his own party found irregularities in its primaries. Lee’s United Progressive Party holds six seats in the 300-seat legislature.

South and North Korea share a heavily armed border and remain technically at war after their 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.

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