Continuing judicial harassment of labour activists of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU)

23/05/2016
Urgent Appeal

KOR 002 / 1215 / OBS 108.1
Arbitrary detention / Judicial harassment /
Obstacles to freedom of assembly
South Korea
May 23, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in South Korea.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the continuing judicial harassment of labour activists of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) [1], including the ongoing arbitrary detention of Mr. Sang-gyun Han, President of KCTU, and a pending arrest warrant against Ms. Young-joo Lee, Secretary General of KCTU.

According to the information received, on May 24, 2016, Mr. Han will face his third hearing in a trial for charges related to his participation in demonstrations that took place between April and November 2015 [2]. Mr. Han has been in arbitrary detention at the Seoul Detention Center since December 2015. His sentence is expected to be handed down in July 2016.

The Observatory has also received information that KCTU’s Secretary General Ms. Young-joo Lee is currently under self-imposed house arrest at the KCTU headquarters in Seoul in order to avoid being arbitrarily detained by the police. Ms. Lee has been in hiding since December 2015 when the authorities issued a warrant for her arrest for participating in the demonstrations between April and November 2015.

Mr. Han’s detention and trial and the arrest warrant against Ms. Lee are part of the intensifying judicial harassment against labour activists in South Korea. According to reports, 20 KCTU other members have also been arrested by police in relation to their involvement in the November 2015 demonstration. 12 of them have been released on bail or suspended sentences, while the other eight are awaiting the conclusion of their trials. In addition, over 540 KCTU officers and members have been questioned by the police in relation to their involvement in demonstrations, many of whom have had to pay fines.

The Observatory condemns the ongoing repression, intimidation, and judicial harassment of labour leaders in South Korea, and in particular the arbitrary detention of Mr. Sang-gyun Han and arrest warrant against Ms. Young-joo Lee, which seem merely aimed at sanctioning the peaceful human rights activities of labour unions and workers’ rights organisations. The Observatory calls upon the South Korean authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Han and all other detained labour leaders and human rights defenders and drop all charges against them, and to cancel the arrest warrant against Ms. Lee.

The Observatory is concerned by the ongoing attempts by the South Korean authorities to curtail freedom of association, assembly, and expression, which seem to be aimed at undermining the legitimate activities of human rights defenders. The Observatory recalls that the South Korean authorities have the responsibility to ensure the protection of human rights in general and of rights related to freedoms of expression, assembly and association in particular.

Background information:

On December 10, 2015, Mr. Sang-gyun Han was arrested by the police at the Jogye Temple in Seoul and was taken to the Namdaemun Police Station, where he remained detained for questioning until December 18 when he was transferred to the Seoul Detention Center.

Mr. Han is accused of violating the Assembly and Demonstration Act and the General Obstruction of Traffic (Article 185 of the Criminal Code) in relation to his participation in protests that took place in April and May 2015 to commemorate the first anniversary of the sinking of the Sewol Ferry and to call for an independent and transparent investigation into the Sewol Ferry incident. After the protests in April and May, Mr. Han was summoned by the police for questioning, but he refused to appear for fear that he would be arbitrarily arrested.

On June 23, 2015, an arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Han, who subsequently went into hiding in the KCTU offices for about five months. He later sought refuge at the Jogye Buddhist Temple in Seoul city centre for almost one month, until he was finally arrested while leaving the temple after the police had surrounded it and attempted to forcibly enter the building.

Mr. Han began a hunger strike on November 30, 2015, in protest against the illegitimate arrest warrant issued against him and the proposed labour reforms that would further limit workers’ rights. He continued the hunger strike while in detention, and after his health deteriorated significantly he ended his hunger strike in early January 2016. In addition, on December 16, 2015, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation for Asia and the Pacific (ITUC-AP) was denied the right to visit Mr. Han at the police station. Police stated that the visit was refused due to “worries about the possibility of conspiracy and destruction of evidence”.

In response to the crackdown on labour activists and attempts by the government to pass labour reforms that would further limit workers’ rights, KCTU organised strikes across the country on December 16, 2015. Although there were no reported clashes with the police during the strikes, the authorities declared the strike “illegal” and announced that they would take strict measures against the organisers and participants. The government has reacted similarly to strikes in the past, imposing criminal and civil charges against union leaders and strike participants. During the week of December 21-25, 2015, KCTU members organised another strike to denounce the repression of the labour movement in South Korea.

Actions requested:

The Observatory urges the authorities of South Korea to:

i. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Sang-gyun Han, Ms. Young-joo Lee, and all KCTU members, as well as all peaceful protesters and human rights defenders in South Korea;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Sang-gyun Han and all KCTU members, as well as all peaceful protesters and human rights defenders in South Korea;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Sang-gyun Han, Ms. Young-joo Lee, and all KCTU members, as well as all peaceful protesters and human rights defenders in South Korea;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in South Korea are able to carry out their legitimate activities including the organisation of strikes and peaceful assemblies without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

i. Conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular:

its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” ;
its Article 5 (a) which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others to meet or assemble peacefully” ; and
its Article 12 which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by South Korea.

Addresses:

Mrs. Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, 1 Cheongwadae-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-820, Republic of Korea, Fax: +82 2770 1690
Mr. Hwang Kyo-ahn, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, 77-6 Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea. Fax: + 82-2-720-35 71
Mr. Kim Hyun-Woong, Minister of Justice, Government Complex-Gwacheon, Jungang-dong1, Gwacheon-si, Kyunggi-do, Tel: 02-2110-3178, Fax: 02-503-7118
Mr. Yun Byung-se, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 60, Sajik-ro 8-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea (110-787) Tel: +82-2-2100-2114, Fax: +82-2-2100-7999
National Human Rights Commission of Korea, Gumsegi Building, No. 16, Ulgiro 1-ga, Jung-gu, 100-842 Seoul, Republic of Korea. Tel: +82 2 2125 97 00; Fax: +82-2-2125-9718. E-mail: nhrc@humanrights.go.kr
H.E. Choi Kyoung-lim, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations, 1 Avenue de l’Ariana, Case Postale 42, 1211 Genève 20, Switzerland, Tel:(41-22) 748-0000, Fax: 748-0003. Email: geneva.korea@mofa.go.kr.
H.E. Chong-ghee Ahn, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Kingdom of Belgium, Chaussée de la Hulpe 173-175, 1170 Brussels(Watermael-Boitsfort), Belgium, Tel : + 32 (0)2 675 5777, Fax : + 32 (0)2 675 5221/(0)2 662 2305

Please also write to diplomatic representations of South Korea in your respective countries.

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  • Co-signatories

    Paris-Geneva, May 23, 2016

    Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

    The Observatory, an FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

    To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
    E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
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