Man Who Stabbed South Korea’s Opposition Leader Is Sentenced to 15 Years

The man who stabbed South Korea’s opposition leader in the neck in January, the worst assault on a politician in the country in nearly two decades, was sentenced on Friday to 15 years in prison.

A judge in Busan, the port city where the attack happened, found the man guilty of attempted murder and violating election laws. The defendant — Kim Jin-seong, a real estate agent, who was identified by the authorities only as Mr. Kim — has a week to appeal the sentence and the conviction, a spokesman for the court said.

The Jan. 2 knife attack left Lee Jae-myung, who was then the leader of South Korea’s main opposition party, bleeding from his jugular vein and sent him to an intensive care unit. He was discharged after eight days. Mr. Lee was attacked while making his way through a crowd after touring the site of a planned airport.

The police said Mr. Kim, who was born in 1957 and lived in Asan, a city south of Seoul, had planned the attack for months and had stalked Mr. Lee at previous rallies. They said Mr. Kim, who had written an eight-page manifesto, wanted to ensure that Mr. Lee never became president.

The attack on Mr. Lee, a liberal who narrowly lost the 2022 presidential election, shocked South Korea, where politics have been largely peaceful since the establishment of democracy in the 1990s ended an era of military rule and political violence.

The assault raised alarms about deepening political polarization and a surge in extreme online discourse. Days after Mr. Lee recovered from surgery, a conservative member of South Korea’s National Assembly, Bae Hyunjin, was attacked in Seoul by a man who struck her in the head with a blunt object. Her injuries were not life-threatening.

The rivalry between Mr. Lee and President Yoon Suk Yeol has been a flashpoint in the country’s political tensions. Since Mr. Lee lost the election in 2022, prosecutors have brought corruption charges against him. Mr. Lee has accused Mr. Yoon of deploying law enforcement to intimidate his political opponents, an allegation that the president has denied.

Mr. Lee resigned last week as leader of the opposition Democratic Party. He plans to seek another term in that post, and party rules require a leader to resign before running again.

The last major attack on a South Korean politician before Mr. Lee’s stabbing was in 2006, when Park Geun-hye, then an opposition leader and later the country’s president, was slashed in the face with a box cutter.

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