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LKP floor leader slams military reform activist

Aug 02,2018
A spat over a military intelligence unit beset by allegations of power abuse took an ugly turn on Tuesday when the floor leader of Korea’s main opposition party attacked the head of a human rights group seeking reform in the military for his sexual orientation.

Rep. Kim Sung-tae, floor leader of the Liberty Korea Party, lobbed criticism at Lim Tae-hoon, director of the Center for Military Human Rights Korea, a Seoul-based nongovernmental organization that revealed incriminating information about the beleaguered Defense Security Command.

“I’m not sure if military reforms are being led by the Ministry of National Defense or a civic organization,” Kim said. He then briefly held up a photograph of Lim and said, “This person is someone who is confused about his sexual identity, so it is illogical for such a person to take the lead in military reforms.”

Lim, an LGBT rights activist, came out as gay in 2000. After declaring himself a conscientious objector due to his beliefs of nonviolence and peace, Lim served a prison term in 2004 for refusing to serve in the military, a requirement for all able-bodied men.

“How can someone who is confused about his sexual identity represent the voice of the military and 600,000 Korean soldiers and speak of military reform?” Kim said. The floor leader also disparaged Lim for wearing makeup and rejecting conscription.

On Monday, Lim’s group alleged that the Defense Security Command tapped the military phone line used by former President Roh Moo-hyun and his defense minister, Yoon Kwang-ung, and illegally surveilled millions of civilians, based on information from a whistleblower.

The group also revealed documents last month that showed the Defense Security Command had devised a detailed plan to declare martial law last year in case the Constitutional Court ruled against the impeachment of then-President Park Geun-hye. Afterward, the center filed a criminal complaint against the military unit.

“It has to be made clear what sort of relationship [Lim] has with the Moon Jae-in administration,” Kim said.

Lim responded to Kim’s remarks in a news conference at the National Assembly on Tuesday. “I’m not sure if such words came out of the floor leader of a political party or from riffraff on the street,” he said.

Kim needs to “apologize in front of the people for his remarks on sexual orientation,” Lim said, “and if Korea is a developed nation, he should step down as floor leader.”

Lim also shot back at Kim’s remark about his makeup. “The next time Liberty Korea Party lawmakers make a television appearance, tell them not to stop by the makeup room,” he quipped.

In defense of the military, the Liberty Korea Party claimed on Tuesday that the Defense Security Command had devised a similar martial law plan in 2004 when then-President Roh was impeached. The command, however, rejected this allegation and said such a review never happened.

The ruling Democratic Party accused the conservative Liberty Korea Party of trying to cloud public sentiment and impede an investigation into the Defense Security Command.

Baek Hye-ryun, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party, said in a briefing on Wednesday that Kim’s “remarks on one’s sexual orientation, which is unrelated to the Defense Security Command issue, is an act trampling on an individual’s human rights.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]