Feb 10, 2015
~ Won Sei-hoon found guilty of mobilizing agents to post online materials that sought to influence the 2012 president election ~
Former National Intelligence Service director Won Sei-hoon, 64, was taken into court custody after an appeals ruling found him guilty of violating the Public Official Election Act by ordering agents from the psychological warfare division to carry out organized interference in the 2012 presidential election.
The court’s decision, which acknowledges Won’s enlistment of the NIS to influence the election results, is expected to have major political repercussions.
Won was taken into court custody on Feb. 9 after Judge Kim Sang-hwan of Seoul High Court‘s sixth criminal division sentenced him to three years in prison and a three-year suspension of credentials for violating the NIS Act and Public Official Election Act by ordering about 70 psychological warfare agents to post online messages intended to influence politics and election results. Won had previously been indicted without detention.
In its ruling, the court said it “acknowledges that the NIS systematically interfered in the election, and that Mr. Won ordered this.”
The judgment found psychological warfare activities between the date of Aug. 21 and election day on Dec. 19, 2012, to constitute violations of election law.
“The election campaign began in earnest on Aug. 20, 2012, when Park Geun-hye was selected as the Saenuri Party candidate, and from that date forward there was a sharp increase in slanderous online messages about the Democratic Party and primary candidates Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo, with content that changed in response to major election issues,” the court noted. The Democratic Party is the precursor to today’s New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD).
The court also determined that the psychological warfare division had violated the NIS Act with political activities between January and December 2012. Of the violations, activities dating from Aug. 21 – including 1,057 online “likes,” 101 posts and replies, and 136,017 tweets and retweets – were found to also be in violation of election law.
“The defendants used the essential functions and organizations of the NIS for activities in opposition to specific parties and politicians,” the court concluded.
“A state organization interfered directly in the online discussion sphere to systematically propagate opinions about election issues under the guise of ‘ordinary citizens,’” it added.
The court went on to say that Won “should bear ultimate responsibility for expanding and reinforcing the psychological warfare organizations and encouraging these activities.”
“He cannot be free from liability in proportion to the severity of the events,” it ruled.
The first trial court acknowledged a violation of the NIS Act, ruling the division’s activities to constitute political interference, but delivered an acquittal on charges of election act violations, arguing that the activities could not be viewed as an active and planned campaign for the election or defeat of specific individuals. Won was given a sentence of two and a half years in prison and a three-year suspension of credentials suspended for four years.
The appeals court also handed down sentences of one year in prison and a one-year suspension suspended for two years to former NIS third vice director Lee Jong-myeong, 58, and eighteen months in prison and an eighteen-month suspension suspended for two years to former division leader Min Byeong-ju, 57, on the same charges.
The opposition NPAD greeted the ruling as a “victory for the truth,” while the ruling Saenuri Party declined to express a position, calling the situation “deeply dismaying” and urging the NIS to take action to prevent similar occurrences in the future. The Blue House did not offer any official comment.
In a statement issued after the ruling, the group People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy declared, “This ruling, which unlike the first trial court recognized a violation of the Public Official Election Act, accords with the public’s common sense and will contribute to establishing democracy and justice.”
It also called the ruling “judicial confirmation of the unfairness of the 18th presidential election and the stain on the democracy [sic] legitimacy of Park Geun-hye’s presidency.”
It went on to urge Park to “take responsible actions that the public can accept now that it has become clear that she was the beneficiary of illegal election interference by state institutions such as the NIS.”
By Kim Seon-sik, staff reporter
Edited by Zuo Shou