SOUTH KOREA: UN body declares detention of trade unionist arbitrary, orders his release

Press release
en ko

Geneva-Paris, May 24, 2017. South Korean authorities must immediately release trade unionist Han Sang-gyun, in accordance with a recent Opinion by the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an FIDH-OMCT partnership) said today.

On April 25, 2017, the WGAD declared Han Sang-gyun’s deprivation of liberty arbitrary because it resulted from the exercise of his right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. These rights are guaranteed by Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). South Korea is a State party to the ICCPR. The Opinion, which was communicated to the Observatory on May 5, 2017, followed a communication submitted by the Observatory on October 31, 2016.

The WGAD called on the South Korean authorities to immediately release Han, President of the Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU), and award him “compensation and other reparations” for the deprivation of liberty to which he has been subjected.

President Moon Jae-in has a golden opportunity to mark a clear break with his predecessor and show that his administration conforms with international human rights standards and jurisprudence. Moon should heed the UN’s ruling and order Han’s immediate release,” said FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.

The WGAD further urged the South Korean Government to conduct a “full and independent investigation” into the circumstances surrounding Han’s deprivation of liberty and to take “appropriate measures” against those responsible for the violation of his rights.

Finally, the WGAD urged the Government to bring its legal framework and practices concerning the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including the Assembly and Demonstration Act, into conformity with the recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the report on his mission to South Korea in January 2016.

“Han should have never been prosecuted and deprived of his liberty for peacefully exercising his rights,” said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “The Supreme Court should take heed of the Working Group’s recommendation and overturn Han’s conviction.”

On July 4, 2016, Han Sang-gyun, was sentenced to five years in prison and fined 500,000 Won (approximately 400 Euros) in connection with a demonstration organized by KCTU against proposed labor reforms in Seoul on November 14, 2015. During the rally, police used excessive force to disperse demonstrators. Authorities had previously issued arrest warrants against Han for his participation in peaceful demonstrations that had taken place in April and May 2015 to express solidarity with the victims of the Sewol Ferry disaster in April 2014. On 13 December 2016, a Court of Appeals reduced Han’s sentence to three years in prison. South Korea’s Supreme Court is expected to rule on the appeal on Han’s case on May 31, 2017.

In its opinion, the WGAD also discussed the case of KCTU Secretary General Lee Young-joo. Lee has been living 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. While the WGAD was unable to express an Opinion in relation to Lee’s case because the arrest warrant against her had not been served and she was not being detained, it 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.

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 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: Samuel Hanryon (French, English): +33 6 72 28 42 94 / Audrey Couprie (French, English): +33 6 48 05 91 57 (Paris) / Andrea Giorgetta (English): Tel: +66886117722 (Bangkok)
• OMCT: Delphine Reculeau (French, English): +41 22 809 49 39 (Geneva)

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