(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details)
By Kim Han-joo
SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Constitutional Court on Friday ordered the dissolution of a pro-North Korean minor opposition party, outlawing a political party here for the first time since the country adopted its first constitution in 1948.
The 8-1 ruling effectively spelled the immediate demise of the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) created in 2011. All five sitting lawmakers of the party also lost their seats, with by-elections slated for April next year. The establishment of an alternative party with similar policies is also prohibited.
The party has been forced to forfeit all state subsidies and its assets have been frozen, according to the National Election Commission (NEC).
"The genuine goal and the activities of the UPP are to achieve progressive democracy and to finally adopt North Korea-style socialism," chief justice Park Han-cheol said, reading out the landmark ruling that was broadcast live on television.
He said the court came to the conclusion that the UPP's principles and activities were in violation of the "basic democratic order" stipulated by the Constitution of South Korea, which remains technically at war with North Korea.
The court also accepted the government's argument for the need to safeguard the country's democracy and national security by banning an unconstitutional political party.
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No political party has been banned by a court decision in the nation's modern history.
The ruling came more than 400 days after the justice ministry filed a petition with the court following the arrest of a number of UPP members on rebellion conspiracy charges.
Several UPP members, including Rep. Lee Seok-ki, were convicted of plotting to overthrow the government in the event of a war with the communist North.
They were found guilty of conspiring with members of a clandestine organization, called the Revolutionary Organization, to topple the South's government if a war broke out with North Korea.
"The UPP, with a hidden agenda to adopt North Korea's socialism, organized meetings to discuss a rebellion. The act goes against the basic democratic order of the Constitution," Park said.
Under South Korea's constitution, the government can ask the Constitutional Court to review the dissolution of a political party believed to damage the country's values.
Eight justices ruled that the party's dissolution was the only way to eliminate the threat it posed to South Korean democracy.
"There is no other alternative to banning the UPP as the party causes real harm," Park added.
The only dissenting justice, Kim Yi-su, cautioned against making generalizations, saying only some members of the UPP were engaged in activities supportive of Pyongyang.
He maintained that a political party should only be outlawed when it is absolutely necessary to protect the country.
The court also ruled that five UPP legislators be stripped of their seats regardless of whether they were elected through popular vote or the proportional representation system.
Reps. Kim Mi-hyui, Kim Jae-yeon, Oh Byung-yun, Lee Sang-kyu, and Lee Seok-ki were immediately deprived of their parliamentary seats.
The ruling, meanwhile, may influence the ongoing trial of Rep. Lee Seok-ki at the Supreme Court.
Earlier, a Seoul appeals court commuted Lee's prison term from 12 to nine years. The court acquitted the 53-year-old UPP legislator of charges that he had plotted the rebellion and only found him guilty of inciting the members to stage a rebellion.
The Supreme Court is expected to deliver the final verdict on Lee in late January.
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