South Korea
Urgent Interventions

Arbitrary detention of Mr. Sang-gyun Han, President of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and crackdown on hundreds of KCTU labour activists

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KOR 002 / 1215 / OBS 108

Arbitrary detention / Judicial harassment /

Obstacles to freedomof assembly

South Korea

December 16, 2015

TheObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme ofthe International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World OrganisationAgainst Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the followingsituation in South Korea.

Descriptionof the situation:

TheObservatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing arbitrarydetention of Mr. Sang-gyun Han, President of the Korean Confederation ofTrade Unions (KCTU)[1] and the crackdown on hundredsof KCTU labour activists.

According tothe information received, on December 10, 2015, Mr. Sang-gyun Han was arrestedby the police at the Jogye Temple in Seoul, and was taken to the NamdaemunPolice Station where he remains detained for questioning. Mr. Han is expectedto be moved to a detention centre on December 17 where he will be kept in detentionduring the investigation and trial.

Mr. Han isaccused of violating the Assembly and Demonstration Act and the GeneralObstruction of Traffic (Article 185 of the Criminal Code) in relation to hisparticipation in protests that took place in April and May 2015 to commemoratethe first anniversary of the sinking of the Sewol Ferry and to call for anindependent and transparent investigation into the Sewol Ferry incident. Afterthe protests in April and May, Mr. Han was summoned by the police forquestioning, but he refused to appear for fear that he would be arbitrarilyarrested.

On June 23,2015, an arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Han, who subsequently went intohiding in the KCTU offices for about five months. He later sought refuge at theJogye Buddhist Temple in Seoul city centre for almost one month, until he wasfinally arrested while leaving the temple after the police had surrounded itand attempted to forcibly enter the building.

TheObservatory has also received information that Mr. Han has been on hungerstrike since November 30, 2015, in protest against the illegitimate arrestwarrant issued against him and the proposed labour reforms that would furtherlimit workers' rights. He has reportedly continued the hunger strike while indetention, and his health is deteriorating significantly. In addition, onDecember 16, 2015, the General Secretary of the International Trade UnionConfederation for Asia and the Pacific (ITUC-AP) was denied the right to visitMr. Han at the police station. Police stated that the visit was refused due to“worries about the possibility of conspiracy and destruction of evidence”.

Mr. Hanfaces eight types of charges related to the April and May demonstrations[2],and police are also considering charging him with “incitement of violence” inrelation to his participation in a protest denouncing proposed labour lawreforms that took place on November 14, 2015, along with other members of KCTU,farmers and civic groups. If convicted, Mr. Han could face up to 10 years inprison and a fine of up to 15 million won (approximately 11,600 Euros).According to reports, the police are already investigating more than 790 KCTUofficers and members in relation to the November 14 demonstration. 24 KCTU members,including Mr. Han, are already detained, and 73 others have been charged butare not yet in detention. The investigations are ongoing and KCTUrepresentatives fear that more charges could be filed everyday.

In responseto the crackdown on labour activists and attempts by the government to passlabour reforms that would further limit workers' rights, KCTU organised strikesacross the country on December 16, 2015. Although there were no reportedclashes with the police during the strikes, the authorities declared the strike“illegal” and announced that they would take strict measures against theorganisers and participants. The government has reacted similarly to strikes inthe past, imposing criminal and civil charges against union leaders and strike participants,and KCTU officers fear that today's strike will result in increased reprisals.Nevertheless, KCTU members are planning another strike during the week ofDecember 21-25, 2015, unless the government puts an end to the repression ofthe labour movement in South Korea.

TheObservatory condemns the ongoing repression, intimidation, and judicialharassment of labour leaders in South Korea, and in particular the arrest andarbitrary detention of Mr. Sang-gyun Han, which seem merely aimed at sanctioningthe peaceful human rights activities of labour unions and workers' rightsorganisations. The Observatory calls upon the South Korean authorities toimmediately and unconditionally release Mr. Han and all other detained labourleaders and human rights defenders, and drop all charges against them.

TheObservatory is concerned by the ongoing attempts by the South Koreanauthorities to curtail freedom of association, assembly, and expression, whichseem to be aimed at undermining the legitimate activities of human rightsdefenders. The Observatory recalls that the South Korean authorities have theresponsibility to ensure the protection of human rights in general and ofrights related to freedoms of expression, assembly and association inparticular.


The Observatory urges the authorities of South Korea to:

i. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Sang-gyun Hanand all KCTU members, as well as all peaceful protesters and human rightsdefenders in South Korea;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Sang-gyun Han and all KCTUmembers, as well as all peaceful protesters and human rights defenders in SouthKorea;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level,against Mr. Sang-gyun Han and all KCTU members, as well as all peacefulprotesters and human rights defenders in South Korea;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in SouthKorea are able to carry out their legitimate activities including theorganisation of strikes and peaceful assemblies without any hindrance or fearof reprisals;

v. Conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human RightsDefenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly,in particular:

· its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individuallyor in association with others, to promote the protection and realization ofhuman rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and internationallevels” ;

· its Article 5 (a) which states that “everyone has the right,individually and in association with others to meet or assemblepeacefully” ; and

· its Article 12 which states that “everyone has the right, individuallyand in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities againstviolations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The State shall take allnecessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities ofeveryone, individually and in association with others, against any violence,threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure orany other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exerciseof the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for humanrights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rightsstandards and international instruments ratified by South Korea.


· Mrs. Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic ofKorea, 1 Cheongwadae-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-820, Republic of Korea, Fax: +822770 1690

· Mr. Hwang Kyo-ahn, Prime Minister of the Republic ofKorea, 77-6 Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea. Fax: + 82-2-720-3571

· Mr. Kim Hyun-Woong, Minister of Justice, GovernmentComplex-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 ofKorea (110-787) Tel: +82-2-2100-2114, Fax: +82-2-2100-7999

· National Human Rights Commission of Korea, GumsegiBuilding, 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 theRepublic 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.

· H.E. Chong-ghee Ahn, Ambassador of the Republic ofKorea to the Kingdom of Belgium, Chaussée de la Hulpe 173-175, 1170Brussels(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 ofSouth Korea in your respective countries.


Paris-Geneva,December 16, 2015

Kindly inform us of anyaction undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, an FIDHand OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders andaims 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 / +33 143 55 18 80

· Tel and fax OMCT + 41(0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

[1] The KCTU is an organisation representing Korean workers and the trade unionmovement, committed to advancing workers' empowerment through economic, social,and political reform, and the overall democratisation of the country.

[2] Charges filed against him include “special obstruction of public duty”,“special obstruction of public duty to injure public officials”, “specialdestruction of public goods”, “general obstruction of traffic”, “violation ofarticle 16 of Act on Assembly and Demonstration (matters observed by organizers)”,“failure of dispersion order”, “hosting an assembly at banned place” and“violation of article 11 of the Act on Assembly and Demonstration (PlacesProhibited for Outdoor Assembly and Demonstration)”.