South Korea: Arrest, arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Ms. Lee Young-joo

Urgent Appeal

New information
KOR 002 / 1215 / OBS 108.4

Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
South Korea

March 2, 2018

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of 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 arrest, arbitrary detention, and judicial harassment of former Secretary General of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions [1](KCTU) Ms. Lee Young-joo.

According to the information received, on January 23, 2018, Ms. Lee was charged by the Public Prosecutor with “obstruction of general traffic”, “special destruction of public goods”, and violation of Articles 11 and 16 of the Act on Demonstration and Assembly, in connection with her participation in a demonstration organized by KCTU against proposed labour reforms in Seoul on November 14, 2015 (see background information).

Ms. Lee will appear before Seoul Central District Court on March 14, 2018, for the first hearing in her case.

The Observatory recalls that Ms. Lee had lived in self-imposed house arrest at the KCTU headquarters in Seoul since December 2015 in order to avoid being arrested by police in connection with her participation in the November 14, 2015 demonstration. The police had issued an arrest warrant against her with unlimited validity after that protest.

On December 18, 2017, Ms. Lee left KCTU’s headquarters and moved to the head office of the ruling Democratic Party in Yeouido, Seoul, to start a hunger strike.

On December 27, 2017, she ended her hunger strike because of her deteriorating health. At 7:00 pm on that day, KCTU staged a rally in front of the Democratic Party’s head office to welcome her back. About 150 police were deployed in order to execute the arrest warrant against Ms. Lee.

As Ms. Lee required urgent medical treatment, an ambulance was called and, as soon as she left the building carried on a stretcher by paramedics, a police officer read out the arrest warrant in front of her and arrested her. Ms. Lee was transported to the Green Hospital in Jung Rang District in Seoul, where police officers were stationed outside her room.

On December 30, 2017, the Seoul Central District Court issued a detention warrant against her. The next day, Ms. Lee was transferred to the Seoul Detention Centre, where she remains to date.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary detention of Ms. Lee Young-joo, which seem to be aimed at deterring her peaceful human rights activities, and calls for her immediate and unconditional release.

The Observatory recalls that Mr. Han Sang-gyun, KCTU President, is still serving a three-year prison sentence in connection with the November 14, 2015 demonstration. In an opinion issued on April 25, 2017, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared Mr. Han’s deprivation of liberty arbitrary because it resulted from the exercise of his right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Background information:

On November 14, 2015, ahead of the demonstrations organised by KCTU against proposed labour law reforms in Seoul, the police took pre-emptive measures against the peaceful demonstration and mobilised about 20,000 officers from 248 squadrons, 19 water cannons, 679 buses, and 580 capsicum spray devices. Altercations between the police and demonstrators ensued. The police fired water cannons and tear gas directly at peaceful marchers. Dozens of civilians and police officers were injured. The police launched an investigation into the incident, as a result of which over 1,500 civilians were investigated and 538 KCTU members were summoned as suspects. Eventually, 20 KCTU members and officials were indicted and 9 of them were sentenced to jail terms.

Actions requested:

The Observatory urges the authorities of South Korea to:

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

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Lee Young-joo and Mr. Han Sang-gyun, as their detention is arbitrary since it only aims at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all trade unionists as well as all 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 peaceful assemblies without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

v. 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 Articles 1, 5(a) and 12;

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.


· Mr. Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea, Fax: +82-2-770-1690
· Mr. Lee Nak-yeon, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, Fax: + 82-2-720-3571
· Mr. Park Sang-ki, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Korea, Fax: +82-2-2110-0300
· Mrs. Kang Kyung-wha, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, Fax: +82-2-2100-7999
· National Human Rights Commission of Korea, Fax: +82-2-2125-9718. E-mail:
· H.E. Choi Kyoung-lim, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 748-0001. Email:
· H.E. Kim Hyoung-zhin, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Kingdom of Belgium, Fax: + 32 (0)2 675 5221/(0)2 662 2305

Please write to the authorities of South Korea and the diplomatic representations of South Korea in your respective countries urging them to take the actions above.

Paris-Geneva, March 2, 2018

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

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and OMCT. The objective of this programme is to intervene, to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· Email:
· Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0)1 43 55 25 18 / 01 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT: +41 22 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29

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