SEOUL--The High Court here ruled Jan. 3 that an arson attack on Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo a year ago was a "political crime," and the Chinese suspect should not be extradited to Japan for trial.
Liu Qiang, 38, is suspected of setting fire to an archway at the religious site in December 2011. The shrine honors Japan's war dead, as well as 14 convicted Class-A war criminals.
"Yasukuni Shrine has political significance. It is a location Japan's Cabinet ministers continue to visit despite opposition from neighboring countries," the Seoul High Court said in its ruling. "Extraditing Liu, who committed a political crime, to Japan would not only contravene the political order of the Republic of Korea and its Constitution but would also deny the universal values of most civilized countries."
Liu left Inchon International Airport for Shanghai on the morning on Jan. 4, South Korean government sources said. He was released the previous day after the court decision was announced. He had already completed a prison term last year for a January 2012 attack on the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
Reacting to the court ruling, Takashi Kurai, a minister at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, telephoned South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to lodge a protest.
The ruling could exacerbate tensions.
Tokyo had made its request based on an existing extradition treaty between Japan and South Korea. But the treaty stipulates that individuals responsible for "political crimes" cannot be extradited.
During the trial, Liu said his grandmother had been one of the so-called comfort women, individuals forced to provide sex to Japanese troops before and during World War II. He said he was registering anger at the Japanese government's attitude toward history.
Fukushiro Nukaga, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker and former finance minister, will visit South Korea on Jan. 4 as scheduled as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's special envoy. He is to hand over a letter from Abe to South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye.
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