SEOUL, South Korea -- With a death sentence hanging over his head, dissident leader Kim Dae-jung went before a military appeals court Friday to plead for a reversal of his conviction on sedition charges.
As he did at his first trial, Kim denied the government's charges against him and said he did not fear death.
'I always tried to live faithfully,' Kim told the five-man court. 'Now I am under a death sentence. No one would want to die, but I don't fear death,' he said.
The former presidential candidate, widely regarded as the most popular politician in South Korea, denied charges that he was a Communist or that he plotted to overthrow the government.
'I have had absolutely no plot or plan for rebellion,' he said, denying charges he instigated violent anti-government street protests earlier this year. 'All my life I firmly believe any violent methods would only bring misfortune.'
He said his aim in leading the peaceful ooposition against the regime of the late President Park Chung-hee was not to seize power himself but restore democracy to South Korea.
Kim and 23 codefendants were brought to the army courthouse inside the Defense Ministry compound in Seoul. Kim faced the court first and alone. The other defendants were held for separate hearings later.
Kim was arrested May 17 during nationwide street demonstrations by students demanding an end to martial law and democratic reforms. His arrest led to nine days of bloody riots and insurrection in his home provincial capital of Kwangju, in which 189 people were killed and more than 800 injured.
Kim and his codefendants _ students, professors, religious leaders, politicians and writers _ were convicted Sept. 17 on sedition charges stemming from the riots.
The dissident leader also was accused of leading an anti-state organization in Japan called Hanmintong _ another charge he denied.
The United States, reacting to Kim's first trial, called the government's charges against him 'far-fetched.'
Kim was sentenced to death while his co-defendants drew prison terms ranging from two to 20 years.
The appeals court session was scheduled to resume Saturday, with a decision expected within two weeks. If the ruling is against Kim, he can appeal again to the civilian supreme court and finally to President Chun Doo-hwan.
Chun, the former military strongman who received an unprecedented vote of confidence Wednesday in a constitutional referendum, is expected to make the final decision on Kim's fate.
Though 10 members of the local press and two from the foreign press were permitted to cover the trial, their reports were heavily censored by government authorities, allowing little detail in reports of the proceedings. No photograpy was allowed.
Kim, 55, was condemned to death by hanging for fomenting dissent against the military government that has ruled South Korea since the assassination of President Park Chung-hee Oct. 26, 1979.
The United States, Japan and other Western countries have condemned the sentence given to Kim.
If the military high court confirms the death sentence, Kim can still appeal to South Korea's civilian supreme court. If that appeal is turned down, Kim can also ask the nation's president, Chun Doo-huan, for clemency.
As the trial opened, Kim, and 22 of his 23 co-defendants, all of whom received prison sentences in the case, were led into the courtroom by military policemen and prison wardens.
The missing defendant, Kim Nok-young, 55, a former opposition lawmaker from the provincial capital of Kwangju where an armed anti-government insurrection broke out in late May, was reported to be ill.
All the defendants looked healthy and composed. Kim, wearing cotton-padded Korean costume, entered wearing a smile and limping slightly from neuralgia on his right leg.