South Korea
Urgent Interventions

Arrest, arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Ms. Lee Young-joo

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KOR 002 /1215 / OBS 108.4

Arbitrarydetention /

Judicial harassment
South Korea

March 2, 2018

The Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requestsyour urgent intervention in the following situation in South Korea.

New information:

The Observatory has beeninformed by reliable sources about the arrest, arbitrary detention, and judicialharassment of former Secretary General of the Korean Confederation of TradeUnions[1] (KCTU) Ms. LeeYoung-joo.

According to theinformation received, on January 23, 2018, Ms. Lee was charged by the Public Prosecutorwith “obstruction of general traffic”, “special destruction of public goods”,and violation of Articles 11 and 16 of the Act on Demonstration and Assembly,in connection with her participation in a demonstration organized by KCTUagainst proposed labour reforms in Seoul on November 14, 2015 (see backgroundinformation).

Ms. Lee will appearbefore Seoul Central District Court on March 14, 2018, for the first hearing inher case.

The Observatory recallsthat Ms. Lee had lived in self-imposed house arrest at the KCTU headquarters inSeoul since December 2015 in order to avoid being arrested by police inconnection with her participation in the November 14, 2015 demonstration. Thepolice had issued an arrest warrant against her with unlimited validity afterthat protest.

On December 18, 2017, Ms.Lee left KCTU’s headquarters and moved to the head office of the rulingDemocratic Party in Yeouido, Seoul, to start a hunger strike.

On December 27, 2017, sheended her hunger strike because of her deteriorating health. At 7:00 pm on thatday, KCTU staged a rally in front of the Democratic Party’s head office towelcome her back. About 150 police were deployed in order to execute the arrestwarrant against Ms. Lee.

As Ms. Lee requiredurgent medical treatment, an ambulance was called and, as soon as she left thebuilding carried on a stretcher by paramedics, a police officer read out thearrest warrant in front of her and arrested her. Ms. Lee was transported to theGreen Hospital in Jung Rang District in Seoul, where police officers werestationed outside her room.

On December 30, 2017, theSeoul Central District Court issued a detention warrant against her. The nextday, Ms. Lee was transferred to the Seoul Detention Centre, where she remainsto date.

The Observatory stronglycondemns the arbitrary detention of Ms. Lee Young-joo, which seem to be aimedat deterring her peaceful human rights activities, and calls for her immediateand unconditional release.

The Observatory recallsthat Mr. Han Sang-gyun, KCTUPresident, is still serving a three-year prison sentence in connection with theNovember 14, 2015 demonstration. In an opinion issued on April 25, 2017, theUnited Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared Mr. Han’sdeprivation of liberty arbitrary because it resulted from the exercise of hisright to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Background information:

On November 14, 2015,ahead of the demonstrations organised by KCTU against proposed labour lawreforms in Seoul, the police took pre-emptive measures against the peacefuldemonstration and mobilised about 20,000 officers from 248 squadrons, 19 watercannons, 679 buses, and 580 capsicum spray devices. Altercations between thepolice and demonstrators ensued. The police fired water cannons and tear gas directlyat peaceful marchers. Dozens of civilians and police officers were injured. Thepolice launched an investigation into the incident, as a result of which over1,500 civilians were investigated and 538 KCTU members were summoned assuspects. Eventually, 20 KCTU members and officials were indicted and 9 of themwere sentenced to jail terms.

Actions requested:

The Observatory urges theauthorities of South Korea to:

i. Guarantee the physicaland psychological integrity of Ms. Lee Young-joo, Mr. Han Sang-gyun, and allKCTU members and officers, as well as all peaceful protesters and human rightsdefenders in South Korea;

ii. Immediately andunconditionally release Ms. Lee Young-joo and Mr. Han Sang-gyun, astheir detention is arbitrary since it only aims at sanctioning theirlegitimate human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to allacts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all tradeunionists as well as all human rights defenders in South Korea;

iv. Ensure in allcircumstances that all human rights defenders in South Korea are able to carryout their legitimate activities, including the organisation of peacefulassemblies without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

v. Conform with theprovisions 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 allcircumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordancewith international human rights standards and international instrumentsratified by South Korea.


· Mr. Moon Jae-in,President of the Republic of Korea, Fax: +82-2-770-1690

· Mr. Lee Nak-yeon, PrimeMinister of the Republic of Korea, Fax: +82-2-720-3571

· Mr. Park Sang-ki,Minister of Justice of the Republic of Korea, Fax: +82-2-2110-0300

· Mrs. Kang Kyung-wha,Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, Fax: +82-2-2100-7999

· National Human RightsCommission of Korea, Fax: +82-2-2125-9718. E-mail:

· H.E. Choi Kyoung-lim,Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations in Geneva,Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 748-0001. Email:

· H.E. Kim Hyoung-zhin,Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Kingdom of Belgium, Fax: + 32 (0)2 675 5221/(0)2 662 2305

Please write to theauthorities of South Korea and the diplomatic representations of South Korea inyour respective countries urging them to take the actions above.


Paris-Geneva,March 2, 2018

Kindlyinform us of any action undertaken, quoting the code of this appeal in yourreply.

The Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 byFIDH and OMCT. The objective of this programme is to intervene, to prevent orremedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCTare both members of, the European Union Human RightsDefenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact theObservatory, call the emergency line:


· Tel and fax FIDH: +33(0)1 43 55 25 18 / 01 43 55 18 80

· Tel and fax OMCT: +41 22809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29

[1] The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU)is an organisation representing Korean workers and the trade union movement,committed to advancing workers’ empowerment through economic, social, and political reform, and theoverall democratisation of the country.

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