Former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook was released from prison Wednesday, after completing her two-year sentence over bribery.
Han was convicted of receiving some 900 million won in illicit political funds from a local businessman in 2007, during her stint as prime minister.
Han, the country’s first woman to become prime minister and the first former premier to serve a prison term, was long considered a heavyweight within the liberal camp.
As she came out from prison in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, at around 5 a.m., she was welcomed by liberal lawmakers and supporters.
“The past two years have been painful but I am grateful that I am finally out into a new world,” she said in front of the prison.
“I overcame hardship with the support and trust you (supporters) have given me.”
At the scene were liberal political figures, including former Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan and the current floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, Rep. Woo Won-shik.
At the time, her liberal party, New Politics Alliance for Democracy -- the forerunner of the ruling Democratic Party -- described the ruling as partial and political revenge by the conservative Park Geun-hye administration against the Roh administration.
After the conviction, she was stripped of her parliamentary seat, and she later left the party.
President Moon Jae-in, who was the chairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy at the time, had also expressed dissatisfaction over the conviction, saying that the ruling was inappropriate.
Han’s release was met by calls for judiciary reform from the ruling party.
“It was painful to see her (in prison) because we know the truth and trust her conscience,” Rep. Choo Mi-ae said at a party meeting.
“The Moon administration has no intention to wield influence on the judicial branch, like Park did. We encourage the court to proceed with reform by itself,” she added.
Opposition parties denounced the ruling party’s stance, accusing them of encroaching on the role of the judiciary body.
“The remarks made by the ruling party’s leadership raise serious concerns, as they appear to be rejecting the decision made by the prosecution and the judiciary,” Rep. Kang Hyo-sang, the spokesman for the main opposition Liberty Korea Party said.
Floor Leader Rep. Kim Dong-cheol of the minor opposition People’s Party also called Rep. Choo’s claims “irresponsible” and said that it is wrong to interfere with the independence of the judiciary.
“We send our condolences to Han who had to serve a prison term at her age. But we cannot agree with the ruling party’s attitude toward this matter,” Floor Leader Joo Ho-young of the splinter conservative Bareun Party said.
“If the ruling party’s claim is true, the government should run an investigation. If it is not, we cannot just laugh off the ruling party’s act of ignoring the constitution,” he added.
Han was born in Pyongyang in 1944 and moved to Seoul with her parents when she was 5 years old. The 73-year-old was a prominent women’s rights activist before she entered politics. She also led the United Democratic Party, the forerunner of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy in 2012 after she served as prime minister.
By Jo He-rim (email@example.com