The South Korean military announced today that it will try dissident leader Kim Dae Jung on charges of plotting to overthrow the government during a citizens' rebellion last May.
The martial law command said Kim and 36 other persons would be tried before military courts for planning a violent coup with bomb attacks aimed at government agencies. If convicted, Kim and the others could be executed.
A 47-page report turned out by the military command said the 37 persons would be charged for violating the national security law, the antisedition law, martial law proclamations, and the foreign exchange control law.
Kim is South Korea's most prominent political dissident and is widely known abroad, particularly in the United States. He was imprisoned for 33 months under the rule of the late president Park Chung Hee and his personal security became a matter of high priority for U.S. officials dealing with Seoul. He has a large and devoted following, especially within one wing of the opposition New Democratic Party, and many South Korean political observers believe he could be elected president in an open election. The military strongly opposes his political influence.
Kim, a former presidential candidate, was seized at his home on the night of May 17 as a group of generals seized full power under expanded martial law proclamations and proceeded to arrest many dissidents.
Kim had planned to run for president again next year under the interim civilian government's proposal to hold elections to pick a successor to Park, who was asassinated last October.
It is believed that more than 150 other dissidents were arrested that night but the military authorities have never published a full list. An estimated 400 other persons in Seoul reportedly fled to avoid arrest.
The martial law command charged that would have placed him in power throw through violent mass uprisings as head of the government.
It said Kim had met with student leaders on May 12 and approved their plan to organize a violent antigovernment revolt that would include bomb attacks on official agencies to paralyze the government.
The alleged meeting would have taken place about the time that students mounted three days of large-scale demonstrations in downtown Seoul. But on May 15, the students called off their demonstrations, at least temporarily. The military cracked down on the night of May 17 after a two-day pause in the demonstrations.
On May 18, after the military crackdown was well under way and Kim was arrested, students in the provincial city of Kwangju launched a new protest and were met with a violent response from government troops. That caused a four-day insurrection in which more than 100 persons were killed. The military finally ended the rebellion by recapturing the city with tanks and paratroops.
The military government, headed by Gen. Chon Doo Hwan, had announced previously it was collecting information to connect Kim with the Kwangju uprising, even though he had been jailed the night before the first student protest started in the city.
In a report issued May 31, the martial law command listed items that it claimed showed that Kim had met with Kwangju students and others who helped to promote the insurrection.
Both the national security law and the sedition law carry death penalties in South Korea.
The report released today suggested that Kim had helped to finance the student uprisings. It accused Kim of passing several million South Korean yuan to student leaders. Kim had collected about $2 million in the South Korean currency from politicians, businessmen, and others interested in political careers, the report charged.
It also charged Kim had received $10,000 from a brother-in-law living in the United States and had concealed $7,300 and about $100 worth of Japanese currency in his home.
The martial law command statement declared, "The people should not be misled by those antinational elements who resort to violence and destruction under the cloak of freedom and democracy."
The command asserted that all of the social turmoil since Park's asassination in October could be traced to "Kim Dae Jung's hasty drive to grab power."
It declared that "A quasi-politician like Kim Dae Jung or leftist elements behind a mask of democracy must be driven out from the political realm in accordance with the law."
Kim had made no secret of his plan to run for the presidency if elections were scheduled in 1981 and in an interview shortly before being arrested had indicated that he would form his own political party and leave the main opposition New Democratic Party. In a series of private comments, military leaders had indicated they strongly opposed Kim's bid for the presidency and circulated reports that he had been procommunist in the late 1940s.
Kim ran for president against Park in 1971 and received about 45 percent of the votes.
Another potential presidential candidate, Kim Jong Pil, also was arrested in May for allegedly amassing an illegal fortune. He was released Wednesday night after he and several other politicians allegedly confessed their ill-gotten gains and agreed to give them to the government.