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.
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing and unprecedented judicial harassment of members and officers of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) for their participation in a rally that took place in November 2015.
According to the information received, as of July 12, 2016, six KCTU officers and members of KCTU-affiliated unions remain in police custody awaiting the outcome of their trials or appeals and facing unprecedented harsh sentences, after they were indicted on charges related to their participation in a demonstration against proposed labour law reforms on November 14, 2015 in Seoul (see background information).
In addition to these six detainees, 14 other members of KCTU or affiliated unions were also indicted in relation to the November 2015 demonstration and have been released on bail or with suspended sentences.
The six who are currently in police custody at the Seoul Detention Center are:
· Ms. Tae-sun Bae,Executive Director of KCTU’s Organisation Department, who was arrested on January 11, 2016, and indicted on February 5, 2016 on charges of “Special Obstruction of Public Duty Injuring Public Officials”, “Special Destruction of Public Goods”, “Special Obstruction of Public Duty”, and “Obstruction of General Traffic”. Prosecutors are asking for a six-year prison sentence. Ms. Bae’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 19, 2016 at 11:00 am in Seoul Central District Court Room #423.
· Mr. Sung-deok Cho,Vice-President of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers Union (KPTU), who was arrested on January 13, 2016, and indicted on February 4, 2016 on “Special Obstruction of Public Duty Injuring Public Officials”, “Special Destruction of Public Goods”, “Special Obstruction of Public Duty”, “Obstruction of General Traffic” and “Failure to Observe Dispersion Order”. Prosecutors are asking for a five-year prison sentence. Mr. Cho’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 21, 2016 at 10:00 am in Seoul Central District Court Room #506.
· Mr.Hyun-dae Lee,Director of KCTU’s Organisation Department, who was arrested on January 13, 2016 and indicted on March 14 on charges of “Special Obstruction of Public Duty”, “Harbouring a Criminal”, “Special Destruction of Public Goods” and “Obstruction of General Traffic”. On April 25, 2016 his request for bail was rejected, and now prosecutors are seeking a five-year prison sentence and a 500,000KRW fine (about 400 EUR). Mr. Lee’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 21, 2016 at 10:00 am in Seoul Central District Court Room #513.
· Mr.Jun-seon Park, also Director of KCTU’s Organisation Department, who was arrested on December 24, 2015, and indicted on January 18, 2016on charges of “Special Obstruction of Public Duty”, “Harbouring a Criminal” and other minor crimes. On June 2, 2016 he was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison. Mr. Park’s lawyers have until July 26, 2016 to finish filing an appeal, after which a hearing will be scheduled.
· Mr.Sang-gyun Han, President of KCTU, who was arrested on December 10, 2015, and was sentenced on July 4, 2016 to a five-year prison term . On July 8 Mr. Han filed an appeal, and on July 11 prosecutors also filed an appeal seeking a longer prison term against him . Both the prosecution and the defence will have to submit their formal justifications for seeking appeal before July 21, 2016, and the appeal hearing will be scheduled afterwards.
· Mr.Jae-shik Lee, member of KPTU and Chair of the Gumi Local, was convicted on May 12, 2016 to 10 months in prison for “Special Obstruction of Public Duty” and other crimes. The prosecution has filed an appeal before the Seoul High Court seeking a harsher sentence, and the Court is schedule to decide on this appeal on July 21.
Of the remaining 14 indicted KCTU members and officers, three are out on bail while they await the results of their trials:
· Mr.Jae-seung Byeon, member of KPTU, charged with a violation of the Act on Assemblies and Demonstrations.
· Mr.Jeong-uk Yang,Chair of the Emergency Committee of the Ulsan Nam-ku Branch of the Korean Government Employees’ Union (KGEU), charged with “Obstruction of Traffic” and other crimes.
· Mr.Ji-ho Yang, member of KCTU, charged with “Special Obstruction of Public Duty”, and other crimes.
The 11 others have all been convicted to prison time for various charges related to “Special Obstruction of Public Duty”, and have been released on suspended sentences:
· Mr. Jae-geun Choi,member of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU), sentenced to a one-year prison term suspended for two years.
· Mr. Young-chul Choi ,member of the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU), sentenced to a one and a half-year prison term suspended for two years.
· Mr. Hyung-chang Jang ,Department Executive Director of KFCITU, sentenced to a one and a half-year prison term suspended for three years.
· Mr. Young-hyun Jeong, General Secretary of the Korean Plant Construction Workers Union (KPCWU) Ulsan Branch, sentenced to a one and four months prison term suspended for two years.
· Mr. Beom-jin Kang, member of KFCITU, sentenced to a four-month prison term suspended for two years.
· Mr. Ki-hong Kim,member of KFCITU and former Secretary of KPCWU Ulsan Branch, sentenced on June 15, 2016 to a one and a half-year prison term suspended for three years.
· Mr. Kyung-do Kim, member of KMWU, sentenced to an eight-month prison term suspended for two years.
· Mr. Geum-ju Lee, member of KMWU, sentenced to a one-year prison term suspended for two years, one year of probation under supervision, and 80 hours of community service.
· Mr. Nam-guk Lee, member of KMWU, sentenced to a one-year prison term suspended for two years.
· Mr. Jeong-soo Nam, Executive Director of KCTU’s Education & Publications Department, sentenced to a one and a half-year prison term suspended for three years.
· Mr. Myung-hun Park, member of KFCITU, sentenced on July 13, 2016 to a one-year prison term suspended for two years.
In addition to the 20 KCTU members and officers who have already been indicted, Ms.Young-joo Lee ,Secretary General of KCTU, currently has an arrest warrant out against her for participating in the November 2015 demonstration. Ms. Lee has taken refuge at the KCTU headquarters in Seoul since December 2015 in order to avoid being arbitrarily detained by the police.
The Observatory condemns the ongoing repression and judicial harassment of the above-mentioned labour leaders and union members, in particular the continued detention of Ms. Tae-sun Bae, Mr. Sung-deok Cho, Mr. Hyun-dae Lee, Mr. Jae-shik Lee, Mr. Jun-seon Park, and Mr. Sang-gyun Han, which seem simply aimed at deterring the peaceful human rights activities of labour unions and workers’ rights organisations in the country.
On November 14, 2015, ahead of the rally organised by KCTUagainst proposed labour law reforms in Seoul, the police allegedly took pre-emptive measures against the peaceful demonstration, mobilising some 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, including a farmer named Baek Nam-gi, who was struck by the jet of a water cannon and remains unconscious seven months later. To this day, police have neither issued an apology nor opened an investigation into the violent actions of the police. On the other hand, the police launched an inquiry where over 1,500 civilians were reportedly investigated and 538 KCTU members were summoned as suspects. Ultimately, the above-mentioned 20 KCTU members and officers were indicted.
The Observatory is concerned by the ongoing attempts by the South Korean authorities to curtail freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression, particularly for trade union and workers’ rights activists. The Observatory recalls that the South Korean authorities have the responsibility under international law to ensure the protection of human rights in general and of rights related to freedoms of expression, assembly and association in particular.
The Observatory urges the authorities of South Korea to:
i. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of all KCTU members and officers, as well as all peaceful protesters and human rights defenders in South Korea;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Tae-Sun Bae, Mr. Sung-deok Cho, Mr. Sang-gyun Han, Mr. Hyun-dae Lee, Mr. Jae-shik Lee, and Mr. Jung-seon Park, 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 above-mentioned 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.
· Mrs. Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, Fax: +82 2770 1690
· Mr. Hwang Kyo-ahn, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, 77Fax: + 82-2-720-35 71
· Mr. Kim Hyun-Woong, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Korea, Fax: 02-503-7118
· Mr. Yun Byung-se, 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: email@example.com
· H.E. Choi Kyoung-lim, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 748-0003. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
· H.E. Chong-ghee Ahn, 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.