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ROK opposition leader's arrest approved

By YANG HAN in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-22 09:13

People rally to express support for Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung before the vote on the motion seeking Lee's arrest on Thursday. YONHAP NEWS AGENCY

Despite an opposition-controlled National Assembly, a motion seeking the arrest of the main opposition leader of the Republic of Korea was passed on Thursday.

The motion for the arrest of Lee Jae-myung, head of the Democratic Party of Korea, or DP, was passed by a 149-136 vote in a secret ballot. There were six abstained votes and four invalid votes. Lee's DP holds 168 seats in the 298-member parliament.

Three people did not show up for the session, including Lee, who was in hospital after 19 days of hunger strike. With the motion having been passed, Lee will need to appear in court before a judge to challenge his arrest.

A warrant review can take place as early as next week but many expect the court to adjust the dates considering Lee's health condition.

Lee, 58, has been hospitalized since Sept 18 after his health deteriorated because of a hunger strike. He started the hunger strike on Aug 31 in protest against the government policies, including its failure to stop Japan from releasing nuclear-contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Lee, who lost to President Yoon Suk-yeol by a slender margin in last year's election, has been accused of breach of trust and bribery. He also faces charges, including alleged involvement in a company's illegal cash remittance to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

If found guilty to all the charges, Lee could be sentenced to at least 11 years in prison, according to legal experts.

21 detained

Before the parliamentary vote, ROK Justice Minister Han Donghoon explained in the National Assembly why the ministry filed the motion to seek Lee's arrest. A total of 21 people have been arrested in this connection, either as Lee's accomplices or related persons, he said.

Han's speech was interrupted several times due to fierce shouting and protests from DP members.

The Justice Ministry submitted the motion to the National Assembly on Sept 19 after the ROK president signed it off on the previous day.

By law, legislators are immune to arrest when the parliament is in session unless a majority of the members participate in a vote and a majority of those voting cast their ballots in favor of the motion.

One day before the parliament vote, Lee wrote on his Facebook page that the motion to arrest him was "illegal and unfair".

"The court should make sure that the investigation into Lee, who damages the state and the people with numerous charges and has no remorse, can be carried out properly," Kang Min-kuk, spokesman for the ruling People Power Party, or PPP, said in a statement on Sept 21.

The DP did not release any official statement as of 7 pm local time.

The National Assembly, on the same day, also passed a ceremonial motion on the dismissal of Prime Minister Han Duck-soo.

The DP submitted the motion on Sept 18, saying the prime minister is responsible for the failures of the Yoon government.

It is the first time that a dismissal motion against the prime minister has passed through the National Assembly. However, the passing of the motion is seen as having no legal binding since Yoon can reject it.

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