Seoul (AsiaNews) - For the first time since its establishment when dictatorship ended (1988), Yushin, South Korea's Constitutional Court, today banned a Political Party and ordered its five deputies to resign from the elected parliament. The chief judges have also forbidden members of the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) to engage in active political action for "at least five years." The ruling has sparked the rage of civil society that believes it signals a return to the days of the military regime.
The Court's decision came after the government - led by Ms. Park Geun-hye, daughter of the late dictator Park - last year filed a petition against the UPP, accusing it of "supporting North Korea" and of "plotting a rebellion "to establish a socialist state in the south of the peninsula. Some party members have been arrested on charges of subversion, and are still in jail.
The Unified Progressive Party was born in 2012 from the merging between a fringe element of the New Progressive Party, some Democratic Labor Party exiles and the majority of the People's Participation Party. It has been much criticized for having defended the human rights situation in North Korea - a situation that UPP members describe as "an inevitable phenomenon that arises from the poverty of the country". It was also at the center of a political scandal when some irregularities regarding its legislative candidates were revealed. Some of its extreme left members have allegedly also maintained relations with Pyongyang spies, to whom they are accused of handing over military secrets. These allegations, however, have not yet been proven.
Pending the ruling, issued this morning, hundreds of people gathered at the gates of the Court. They included both UPP supporters and their opponents. The government responded by sending some 1,000 police officers in riot gear to the streets of Seoul. Human Rights activists, present on the ground, commented on the decision of the judges describing it as "the end of democracy."
Motivating his decision, Chief Judge Park Han-chul writes: "there was an urgent need to remove the threat posed by the Party to the basic order of democracy." On the other hand, leaders of the baned party are defending themselves: "No defense of North Korea, only the desire for dialogue. If we continue to shoot each other, how can we achieve peace and reunification?".
UPP Chairman, Lee Jung-hee, does not mince his words: "This decision opens a dark age, with an authoritarian decision that will turn South Korea in a dictatorial country". According to international analysts, "the call of the Party raises serious questions as to the authorities' commitment to freedom of expression and association in the country."