S. Korean Clergymen Get Prison Terms Over Naval Base Protests

Two Catholic priests and two monks in South Korea were sentenced to suspended prison terms on Friday for obstructing police from executing their duties during protests against the construction of a naval base on the country's Jeju Island.

Construction is underway to build the naval base in Gangjeong Village on the southern tip of the resort island to accommodate around 20 naval vessels following a 2007 government decision. The project, scheduled for completion by 2014, faces strong resistance from some local residents and civic groups, with less than 20 percent of the work being completed so far.

Rev. Moon Jeong-hyun was sentenced to an eight-month prison term, suspended for two years, after being indicted for obstruction of justice while protesting against the naval base last year, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

The 72-year-old priest climbed onto a police vehicle to keep officers from taking a village head to the police station and assaulted police three times in two months after he joined the anti-naval base movement in August, say investigators.

"As the construction project was approved by the government, such violent ways of expressing opinion against it should be regarded as illegal," Judge Lee Yong-woo of the Jeju District Court said in his verdict. "He deserves a suspended term, however, as he did not commit the crime for his personal interest," the judge said.

The court sentenced the second priest, identified only by his surname Lee, and the two monks whose identities were withheld, to six-months in jail, suspended for two years, on similar charges of obstruction.

Moon, who plans to appeal the ruling, said "my action against the naval base is legitimate, as the project itself is illegal."

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