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“Different languages, same message”

July 25, 2018




July 25, 2018


“Different languages, same message”,

 Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. visits and prays for the release of imprisoned, progressive former member of the National Assembly of South Korea,
Lee Seok-ki, on the third day of peace mission in South Korea


SUWON, South Korea – Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., sat on a stool in a hot, stuffy, six-by-six-foot room here Wednesday, the third day of his peace mission to the Korean Peninsula.


He peered through a set of iron bars and a thick pane of glass.


“Let us pray,” Rev. Jackson said to the thin man, Lee Seok-ki, sitting on the other side of the glass in an almost identically dreary room, about an hour’s drive from Seoul.


Rev. Jackson put his hand on the glass. Lee, a progressive former member of the National Assembly of South Korea, did the same. If not for the barrier, their palms would have been touching as they talked to God.


“Father have mercy upon us,” Rev. Jackson said into the intercom, connecting the rooms. “Set the captives free. You freed Nelson Mandela. You freed Dr. King. You freed Kim Dae-jung [South Korea’s only Nobel Prize recipient]. Now free Lee. Embrace his human rights. Let him help heal a nation. Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith. In the end, faith will prevail. Amen.”


“Amen,” Lee said, his head bowed, his hand lingering on the glass.


The American and the Korean were praying together – “different languages, same message” – in visiting room 15 at the Suwon Detention Center where Lee has been prisoner 716215 369 since his 2014 conviction on treason charges. Lee was accused of conspiring to start an armed revolt to overthrow the South Korean government in the event of war with North Korea. He was given a nine-year sentence.


The conservative and corrupt Seoul government at the time of Lee’s conviction, led by President Park Geun-hye, the daughter of longtime South Korean dictator, Park Chung-hee, also disbanded Lee’s leftist political party, the Unified Progressive party.


The Carter Center in Atlanta – “with concern” – took note of the case, saying in a statement, that Lee’s “conviction is taking place under the provisions of a highly restrictive National Security Law, established during the pre-1987 era of autocratic military rule, that appears to contradict both the Republic of Korea’s internationals human rights treaty obligations and the nation’s global reputation as a highly successful prosperous democracy.”


Three years after Lee’s conviction, President Park was impeached and removed from office over an influence-peddling scandal, according to The New York Times. This spring, she was sentenced to 24 years in prison after being convicted on corruption charges.


 “The people who jailed you,” Rev. Jackson told Lee, “had no moral authority.”


Lee, now 56, has always denied the charges. His supporters call him a “political prisoner,” a victim of “Korean McCarthyism.”


Lee told the court at his trial and Rev. Jackson Wednesday that he advocated peace between the two Koreas, not insurrection in the south. “Five years ago,” he told Rev. Jackson, “I spoke publicly in the National Assembly for peace on the Korean Peninsula and specifically to end the Korean War. Today North and South Korea have declared the same thing. 


I’m very happy about that.”


An armistice was signed to end the fighting in 1953, but never a peace treaty. Sixty-five years later, the Korean War still is not over. If the world is consumed by nuclear holocaust, a likely source point will be this haunted peninsula and the 150-mile, landmine-littered DMZ that divides it.


Lee said he was attacked as a “communist” for advocating for peace and better relations with North Korea.


“Dr. King was called a communist, too,” Rev. Jackson said. “So was Kim Dae-jung. Mandela was called a terrorist. But these men changed the world. You represent their legacy.”


Rev. Jackson was accompanied on the prison visit by Lee’s older sister and by Korean-American peace activist, Hyun Lee, no relation. Lee was accompanied to the visiting room by a guard, sitting at a small desk, taking notes.


Rev. Jackson said he would argue Lee’s case for release “in the public square” back home and to South Korea’s liberal president Moon Jae-in, who played a pivotal role in bringing North Korea and the United States to the table at the summit in Singapore earlier this year – and the Korean Peninsula closer to peace. “He has been doing a good job,” Rev. Jackson said of Moon.  “He deserves our support.”


Lee thanked Rev. Jackson for “coming so far” to push for peace. “I’ve heard about all of your efforts for human rights and democracy,” he said.


“Don’t you give up,” Rev. Jackson said. “You will be free. North and South will be reunified.”


“I believe so,” Lee said.


Rev. Jackson told Lee, “There’s a song in our tradition, ‘I’ll Keep on Living After I Die.”


“We can’t always stop tyrants from crucifying the innocent,” Rev. Jackson said. “They can’t stop God from resurrecting them.”


Then a voice came over the intercom. Time was up. The 20-minute visit was over.


The men bowed their heads and put their hands back on the glass one last time.



Don Terry