Saturday, December 20, 2014
(Reuters) - South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled on Friday to disband a minority left-wing party accused of pro-North Korea activities that it said violated the basic principles of free democracy and stripped its five members of parliament of their seats.
Eight of the court's nine judges sided with the majority opinion for the unprecedented decision that "there was an urgent need to remove the threat posed by the party to the basic order of democracy," the chief judge Park Han-chul said.
The case against the United Progressive Party (UPP) brought by the government of President Park Geun-hye has been played out amid a bitter struggle between conservatives and liberals in a country sharply divided over ideology and North Korea.
The ruling to disband a political party required the votes of six of the nine judges.
UPP leader Lee Jung-hee said after the ruling that the court had "opened the gate to totalitarianism based on falsehood and imagination" and effectively turned South Korea into "a dictatorial country."
The party, which says it speaks for the working class and progressive members of society, has led a stormy existence since its founding in 2011, including the conviction of one member of parliament earlier this year on charges of treason.
Lee Seok-ki awaits the Supreme Court ruling on his appeal in a case stemming from his comments at a party meeting last year where he reportedly called for attacks against South Korea's utilities if a war between the rival Koreas breaks out.
Lee has pleaded innocent, saying his comments were taken out of context and misinterpreted.
Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who was the plaintiff in the Constitutional Court case, has argued that the UPP has sympathized and followed North Korea's strategy to revolutionize the South.
"What the so-called 'progressive democratic movement' is pursuing is the establishment of a pro-communist government and unification to realize North Korean-style socialism," Hwang told the court in the final argument last month.
Amnesty International expressed concern at what it said was the use of national security to repress political opposition.
"The ban on the UPP raises serious questions as to the authorities' commitment to freedom of expression and association," Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
SEOUL, South Korea — A flight attendant for Korean Air who was kicked off a plane after macadamia nuts in an unopened package were served to an airline executive accused Korean Air and government officials on Thursday of trying to whitewash the incident.
The executive, Cho Hyun-ah, 40, a daughter of the airline’s chairman, became enraged when a flight attendant in first class served her nuts in a bag instead of on a plate on Dec. 5. She forced Korean Air Flight 86, already taxiing at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and bound for Incheon,South Korea, to return to the gate to kick the senior steward, Park Chang-jin, off the plane.
Ms. Cho’s outburst set off public outrage, prompting the government to investigate whether her conduct had violated aviation laws. But in an interview with the South Korean television network KBS that was broadcast on Thursday, Mr. Park said that from the moment the episode was leaked to the news media, Korean Air tried to protect Ms. Cho, then a vice president of the airline, at all costs, even coercing crew members into lying to government investigators.
“They already had a script,” Mr. Park told KBS. “They concocted various excuses for why she could not help but get enraged, and told us to admit to them.”
Korean Air did not comment on the allegations of a cover-up, pending an investigation by prosecutors. The transport ministry, which questioned Mr. Park, said it would conduct an internal audit of its investigators to see if they collaborated with Korean Air executives to hush up the scandal.
Mr. Park, who as a senior flight attendant was berated by Ms. Cho over the nut service, said a higher-ranking employee suggested a statement for him to present to investigators. Then, he said, when he was being questioned by officials from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Korean Air executives were either present or within earshot to make sure that he did not deviate from the script. Government investigators even let Korean Air executives ask questions, guiding Mr. Park to answer them with a yes or no, he said.
“I determined that I would never have a fair investigation,” said Mr. Park, explaining why he did not respond to another summons from the investigators and instead gave his acccount to the news media. In an interview on Friday with KBS, he said that Ms. Cho had made him and a junior steward who had served the nuts apologize on their knees, and that she had also hit his hand with a plastic folder of in-flight service manuals.
Last week, under snowballing public pressure, Ms. Cho’s father and Korean Air’s chairman, Cho Yang-ho, apologized for her “foolish” behavior andstripped her of all jobs in his family-run conglomerate. Prosecutors questioned Ms. Cho for 12 hours on Wednesday about allegations that she broke aviation laws by using verbal and physical violence against the crew and by forcing the plane to return to the gate.
Correction: December 18, 2014
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Park Chang-jin, the flight attendant who was kicked off the plane. It is not the case that he served the nuts to Cho Hyun-ah, the airline executive; another flight attendant served them.
Kim Ri-taek, editorial writer
President Park is not about to change her undemocratic ways on her own, so pressure is needed to protect democracyBy Kim Ri-taek, editorial writer
Members of civic and labor organizations and the Unified Progressive Party hold a candlelight protest at Seoul Plaza outside City Hall on the second anniversary of President Park Geun-hye’s election, chanting slogans protesting her government’s destruction of democracy, suppression of labor and disbandment of the UPP, Dec. 19. The placards read, “I can’t live like this” and express disapproval of Park’s first two years in office. (by Lee Jeong-woo, staff photographer)
Aside from its historical significance and consequences, the disbandment of a political party through the unelected judiciary instead of a public referendum has cast a pall over the current political situation in South Korea.
Disbandment apparently part of ruling party’s plan to stifle growth of smaller parties by isolating and dividing progressives
Constitutional Court President Park Han-chul reads the ruling to disband the Unified Progressive Party, Dec. 19. (pool photo)
The decision is the first such move in South Korea’s constitutional era, since 1948On the morning of Dec. 19, the Constitutional Court ordered the disbandment of the left-wing Unified Progressive Party (UPP), the first such decision made in South Korea’s constitutional era, since 1948.
The final Constitutional Court hearing on the disbandment of the Unified Progressive Party, Dec. 19.
Unified Progressive Party leader Lee Jung-hee (left) sits next to her attorney waiting for the ruling at the Constitutional Court in Seoul’s Jongno district, Dec. 19. (pool photo)
Unified Progressive Party leader Lee Jung-hee and the party’s lawmakers during a press conference outside the Constitutional Court in Seoul’s Jongno district, Dec. 19. (Yonhap News)