South Korean dissidents issued a new challenge to President Park Chung Hee's government today a few hours after the country's Supreme Court upheld sentences of up to five years imprisonment that were given to 16 Christian critics.
The two related events are likely to heighten tension between the United States and South Korea over human rights. President Carter has frequently expressed concern for civil liberties in South Korea - most recently in talks with Foreign Minister Park Tong Jin. The Seoul government rejected the criticism as interference in its domestic affairs, and has again demonstrated its determination to deal severely with dissidents.
Leaders of the small but highly motivated opposition within South Korea say they will continue to push their claims for the restoration of full democracy.
Their "Carter for Democracy and National Salvation" made public today, appeals for relaxation of Park's authoritarian rule and calls for an independent judiciary, freedom of press and education, and repeal of the constitution that Park promulgated under martial law in 1972 giving himself virtually limitless powers. The two-page document was apparently signed by six prominent religious and political leaders.
Such criticism is illegal under a 1975 emergency decree.
The charter's wording similar to the Democracy Manifesto read at an ecumenical service in Seoul's Myongdong Cathedral March 1, 1976. A trial growing out of that protest was concluded by the Supreme Court's dismissal of defense appeals today.
Three signers of the new protest have already received suspended five-year sentences for their role in the Myongdong case. They are former President Yun Po Sun, 79, former Foreign Minister Chung II Hyung, 73, and Quaker leader Hahm Sukhon. The other signers are Bishop Daniel Chi; Yang II Dsng, president of a small opposition group, the Democratic Unification Party, and Chung Koo Young, former president of the ruling party who broke with President Park in 1969.
The government denounced the renewed defiance. Foreign press director Yu Tae Wan said the charter "must be the product of a man stricken with infantile, petty heroism, who seeks wild publicity, and draws satisfaction there from by habitually violating the law in the guise of a fight for democracy."
Yun's wife, Kong Duk Kwi, said she had been notified by the Korean Central Intelligency Agency that agents were investigating authorship and distribution of the charter.
Earlier, it took only 17 minutes for the 16 Supreme Court judges to end South Korea's most celebrated trial of political dissidents.
Former presidential candidate Kim Dae Jung and the 17 other defendants were originally accused of inciting rebellion by preparing and reading the Democracy Manifesto. Chief Justice Min Bok Ki confirmed the convictions and sentences on lesser charges - of violating the emergency decree against dissent. This completes the judical process and only a presidential amnesty could free the prisoners.
As the judges rose to leave, the courtroom audience of about 200 relatives and friends immediately began applauding and waving to the defendants. The nine who are serving sentences were hailed with shouts of "mansei" ("long live") as they were driven away.
The remaining nine defendants are free - their sentences either suspended by a lower court or stayed today on grounds of advanced age and other unstated reasons. Nevertheless, through his conviction Chung II Hyung. Korea's longest-serving national assemblyman, forfeited the seat he has held since 1950 and his wife Yi Tae Young, an eminent lawyer, was disbarred.
Four of the defendants' and some 60 supporters has marched to the court from an early morning prayer service, singing "We Shall Overcome" in Korean. Plainclothes police broke up an attempt to make a return march. Kim Dae Jung's wife, Le Hee Ho shouted to schoolboys peering from their classrooms, "Your generation must live freely."
Yi said several of the Supreme Court judges were her former law professors, colleagues and friends. "Their ruling is not independent. They are symbolic of justice in Korea," she said. A former winner of the prestigious Magsaysay Award for her work representing poor clients, Yi was close to collapse. Family friends said she was groggy from taking too many sleeping pills after a long period of worry.
A government official said today that South Korea's judiciary and enjoyed full independence and that the verdict was in conformity with existing law. While the country faced "a constant threat from the North, anyone hurting national unity must be dealt with firmly," he said.