South Korea: Continued judicial harassment of four defenders working on the Sewol Ferry Disaster

Urgent Appeal

KOR 001 / 0715 / OBS 060.1
Judicial harassment
South Korea
January 18, 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 continued judicial harassment of Mr. Lae-Goon Park, a standing steering committee member of the Coalition 4.16 on the Sewol Ferry Disaster [1] (Coalition 4.16), as well as Ms. Hye-Jin Kim, a staff member of the Coalition 4.16, and Messrs. Hyung-Jae Ham and Hyun-Sik Kim, two staff members from the People’s Committee for the Sewol Tragedy.

According to the information received, on January 22, 2016, theSeoul Central District Court will announce a verdict against Mr. Park and Ms. Kim, who face five years and three years in prison respectively for charges related to their participation in a series of protests in 2014 and 2015 related to the Sewol Ferry incident (see background information). On December 15, 2015 the Seoul Prosecutor’s Office had requested the Court to sentence Mr. Park and Ms. Kim to these prison sentences. Mr. Park and Ms. Kim’s lawyers are planning to submit defence arguments and additional views before the January 22 hearing.

Mr. Park and Ms. Kim are both facing charges under Article 6 (“organizing illegal rallies”) and Article 20 (“refusal to be dispersed”) of the Assembly and Demonstration Act and Article 185 (“general obstruction of traffic”) of the Criminal Code. Mr. Park is facing the following additional charges: Article 141 (“invalidity of public documents” and “destruction of public goods”), Article 144 (“special obstruction of public duty”) and Article 307 (“defamation”) of the Criminal Code.

In addition, six other people who participated in Sewol protests in April and May 2015, including Messrs. Hyung-Jae Ham and Hyun-Sik Kim(two staff members from the People’s Committee for the Sewol Tragedy) were detained for alleged acts of violence during the protests and then released [2]. On July 14, 2015, the Seoul Prosecutor’s office indicted Messrs. Ham and Kimunder Article 185 of the Criminal Code, for which they faced three years in prison. On August 11, 2015, a lower court sentenced Messrs. Ham and Kim respectively to eight months in prison with two years of probation and six months in prison with one year of probation respectively. Both Messrs. Kim and Ham appealed their sentences; the first appeal hearing was held on December 17, 2015. The final decision of the Appeal Court is expected to be announced on January 28, 2016.

The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the continued judicial harassment against Messrs. Park, Ham, Kim and Ms. Kim, and calls on the South Korean authorities to drop all charges against them and put an end to all acts of judicial harassment against them and other human rights defenders in South Korea.

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:

After the Sewol ferry disaster on April 16, 2014, families of victims and civil society organizations have continuously urged the Government to set up an independent investigatory commission to reveal the truth regarding the Sewol ferry disaster. The People’s Committee for the Sewol Ferry Tragedy, together with Sewol victims’ families, collected more than 3.5 million individual signatures calling for the enactment of a law to establish an independent and transparent investigation commission on the Sewol ferry disaster and submitted these signatures to the National Assembly on July 15, 2014.

After the submission, some victims’ families, individual citizens, and human rights defenders including Mr. Lae-goon Park, went on hunger strike, demonstrated overnight in the street, and shaved their heads in protest calling for enactment of a Special Law on Sewol. The Special Law for Seeking Truth of the Sewol Ferry Disaster and Establishing Safer Society (Sewol Special Law) was finally enacted on November 7, 2014.

However, on March 27, 2015, the government announced an enforcement ordinance for the Sewol Special Law which human rights defenders say runs counter to the provisions of the law and risks denying the rights of victims and families to truth. The members of Coalition 4.16 therefore organised a series of protests to call for the abolishment of the enforcement decree and to commemorate Sewol victims and call for a truly independent and transparent investigation into the tragedy. During these protests in April and May 2015, physical clashes between protesters and police occurred and violence broke out.

On July 17, 2015, Mr. Park was detained by the Seoul Metropolitan Police in connection to his participation in a series of protests in 2014 and 2015 related to the the Sewol Ferry incident [3]. Police agents claimed that Mr. Park incited sedition during these protests and colluded with other human rights defenders to take violent action against the police. According to Coalition 4.16, no conclusive evidence has been provided for Mr. Park’s involvement in inciting violent acts during the protests. To the contrary, Coalition 4.16 has stated that Mr. Park tried to calm participants during the protests and asked them not to use any violence against authorities. On November 2, 2015, Mr. Park was released on bail.

Actions requested:

The Observatory urges the authorities of South Korea to:

i. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Lae-Goon Park, Hyung-Jae Ham, Hyun-Sik Kim and Ms. Hye-Jin Kim and all peaceful protesters as well as all human rights defenders in South Korea;

ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Lae-Goon Park, Hyung-Jae Ham, Hyun-Sik Kim and Ms. Hye-Jin Kim and all peaceful protesters as well as all human rights defenders in South-Korea;

iii. 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.


· 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:
· 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:
· 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.

Paris-Geneva, January 18, 2015

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:
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
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