SEOUL — An appeals court on Friday upheld the 4-year prison sentence of a man convicted of plotting to kill a prominent pro-democracy activist working for the downfall of the North Korean regime.

The man – identified by the Korean courts only by his last name, An — was convicted in April of violating South Korea’s National Security Law and trying to use a poisoned needle to kill activist Park Sang Hak.

Seoul High Court head judge Yoon Sung-won said the sentence was “appropriate” because the attempted murderer had threatened the country’s security.

An fled North Korea 17 years ago and joined groups working to bring down the communist regime. His target, Park, had been the subject of previous death threats from the North because of his prominent efforts against the North’s government, including sending propaganda-laden balloons across the Demilitarized Zone.

The balloons, which Park continues to send, typically contain pamphlets criticizing North Korean leaders as well as U.S. dollars intended to help North Koreans buy goods on the black market.

According to court documents, An was recruited to kill Park by North Korean agents who promised to help him with his business in South Korea and to give his family — which had been moved to a control zone after his defection — a better life.

However, a partner helping An carry out the murder plot reported him to authorities, and he was arrested in September 2011 while waiting to meet Park at a restaurant where the murder was supposed to take place. An argued that he never intended to kill Park and had pretended to work with North Korean agents to gain information that he planned to turn over to South Korean authorities.

During his appeal, prosecutors had asked that his sentence be lengthened because of the severity of his crime.

Reached by phone after Friday’s verdict was announced, Park said the court was “too weak” and South Korean law was “too generous.”

“The court is not taking the North’s threat to kill defectors seriously,” he said.

The assassination attempt was cited by U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. James Thurman during testimony to Congress in March as an example of the North’s willingness to infiltrate the South and of the threats posed by undercover agents.

Despite his criticism of the court, Park said he would have forgiven An if he had admitted that he agreed to participate in the assassination plot to ensure the safety of his relatives in North Korea.

An has one week to appeal his case to the Seoul Supreme Court.

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Yoo Kyong Chang is a reporter/translator covering the U.S. military from Camp Humphreys, South Korea. She graduated from Korea University and also studied at the University of Akron in Ohio.

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