SOUTH KOREA: Release of trade union leader Lee Young-joo

Press release

(Geneva, Paris) The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an FIDH-OMCT partnership) welcomes the release of South Korean labor rights defender Lee Young-joo but decries her conviction on trumped-up charges.

On June 14, 2018, the Seoul Central District Court sentenced Lee Young-joo to a suspended three-year prison terms and a 500,000 won (approximatively 400 Euros) fine. At approximately 12:00pm on this day, Lee Young-joo was released from the Seoul Detention Center.

“The outcome of Lee Young-joo’s trial was a classic case of a ‘face-saving’ solution for the court. The suspension of Lee Young-joo’s prison term allowed her to walk free but the harsh sentence imposed was meant to show that she deserved to be punished for organizing and participating in a labor protest.”

Andrea Giorgetta, FIDH Asia Desk Director, who observed all three trial hearings on July 11, 12, and 14, 2018

On June 12, 2018, the prosecution had demanded Lee Young-joo be sentenced to five years in prison and a 500,000 won fine on charges of “obstruction of traffic”, “special destruction of public goods”, and violation of Articles 11 and 16 of the Assembly and Demonstration Act.

Lee Young-joo lived under self-imposed house arrest at the headquarters of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) in Seoul from December 2015 to December 2017 in order to avoid being arrested by police in connection with her participation in a demonstration to protest against proposed labor reform on November 14, 2015 in central Seoul. She was eventually arrested on December 27, 2017 and detained at the Seoul Detention Center.

“We welcome Lee Young-joo’s release, yet she should have never been prosecuted in the first place. Her arbitrary detention was clearly aimed at punishing her legitimate human rights work as well as her leadership of KCTU and we trust that she will not be subjected to any further reprisal.”

Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General

In an opinion issued on April 25, 2017, the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared the deprivation of liberty of former KCTU President Han Sang-gyun’s arbitrary because it resulted from the exercise of his right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Han was arrested on December 10, 2015 for his participation in the November 12, 2015 demonstration. In the same opinion, the WGAD discussed the case of Lee Young-joo but was unable to express an opinion in relation to her case because at that time the arrest warrant against her had not been served and she was not being detained. However, the WGAD noted the “factual similarities” between Han and Lee’s cases and recalled that the government had a responsibility to prevent arbitrary arrest and detention in the context of peaceful assemblies. On May 21, 2018, Mr. Han Sang-gyun was released on parole because he had served 80% of his three-year prison sentence in connection with the November 14, 2015 demonstration.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this program is 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.

For more information, please contact:
• FIDH: Maryna Chebat: +33 6 48 05 91 57 e-mail: / Samuel Hanryon: +33 6 72 28 42 94 e-mail:
• OMCT : Delphine Reculeau : +41 22 809 49 39 / email :

Read more