SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's spy agency arrested three members of a small opposition party Wednesday for allegedly plotting an insurgency to overthrow the government, party officials said, the first arrests in recent years on such anti-government charges.
National Intelligence Service officials confirmed the arrests of at least one United Progressive Party member and raided the offices of unidentified party officials, but did not say how many were taken into custody. The officials spoke on of condition of anonymity, citing department rules, and refused to give more details.
Party spokeswoman Lee Soo-jung denied that the party, which has six lawmakers in the 298-seat parliament, was planning any insurgency. She said that in addition to the three arrests, the offices and houses of 10 party officials, including one incumbent lawmaker, were raided Wednesday by spy agency staff.
Yonhap news agency and other South Korean media said party officials were accused of planning to destroy crucial facilities and assassinate unidentified people, as well as organizing an anti-government group and praising the North Korean government.
There were no reports that the military was in any way involved.
The party said in a statement that the charges were fabricated to divert criticism that the spy agency had conducted an alleged online smear campaign against a liberal candidate in December's presidential elections. Party members have joined recent rallies criticizing the spy agency.
Past South Korean military-backed governments used charges of insurgency and security law violations to suppress political dissidents. But with the country becoming a democracy, there have been no arrests over insurgency plots or other similar anti-government charges in recent years.
Former presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, both former army generals, were convicted of mutiny and treason in 1996 over a 1979 military coup and 1980 bloody crackdowns on a pro-democracy uprising in the southern city of Gwanju. Former President Kim Dae-jung, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was sentenced to death for fomenting the Gwanju uprising, though he was released two years later after Washington intervened.
Many conservative critics claim the United Progressive Party has pro-North Korea policies. But Lee said her party has never officially supported North Korea and its nuclear and missile programs and has only called for greater reconciliation with Pyongyang.
Yonhap reported that about 130 party members met in May to discuss insurgency plots and that the spy agency obtained a transcript of conversations among party officials about using firearms in the case of some emergencies — a report that the party denies. Yonhap cited an unidentified official from Suwon District Court near Seoul, which issued a warrant for the raid, and family members of one unidentified party official who talked with spy agency officials who raided their house.
Officials at Suwon District Court refused to confirm the reports.