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Jesuits call for release of activist priest

Fr. Lee to be charged with biting policeman

Father Lee remains in detention on Jeju Island awaiting trial (photo by Cho Sung-bong) Father Lee remains in detention on Jeju Island awaiting trial (photo by Cho Sung-bong)
  • Stephen Hong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • November 12, 2012
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Jesuits in South Korea have urged authorities to release a man arrested last month after he bit the forearm of a police officer during a protest against a controversial naval base on Jeju Island.

Father John Lee Young-chan, 61, was protesting against the violent arrest of a female activist at the entrance to the base construction site when the incident happened.

A court confirmed the legality of his detention on Tuesday, and on Friday he was formally charged with attacking a police officer. He is being held in Jeju Prison.

Following a Mass in support of Fr. Lee in Seoul on Friday, Father John Shin Won-sil said the accused should be allowed out on bail “as he is not a flight risk and would not destroy evidence.”

However, Woo Jeong-sik, chief inspector of Jeju police, said today the law would be strictly enforced given that “Fr. Lee bit a policeman who tried to restrain him,” which he described as “the obstruction of police work.”

Meanwhile, Jesuit Fr. Kolbe Kim Sung-hwan, who claims to have seen the incident, said that Fr. Lee had done little more than bite the police officer's clothes.

“He acted in self-defense because he felt gravely threatened while three policemen held him by squeezing his throat and twisting his arms,” said Fr. Lee’s lawyer Kim In-sook.

In a letter from prison, he said activists were engaged in “just protests” against the “unjust construction" of the naval base and accused police of undermining their rights.

The construction of the naval base on Jeju Island, which will become home to a new fleet of 20 warships and other vessels, has sparked vigorous protests from residents, environmental activists and religious leaders.

Protesters say the project would cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem of the island, a popular tourism destination and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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