South Korea
Urgent Interventions

Continuing judicial harassment of labour activists of the KCTU

New information

KOR 002 / 1215 / OBS108.1

Arbitrary detention / Judicial harassment /

Obstacles to freedom of assembly

South Korea

May 23, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human RightsDefenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights(FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received newinformation and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation inSouth Korea.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed byreliable sources about the continuing judicial harassment of labour activistsof the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU)[1], including the ongoing arbitrary detentionof Mr. Sang-gyun Han, President of KCTU, and a pending arrest warrantagainst Ms. Young-joo Lee, Secretary General of KCTU.

According to the information received, onMay 24, 2016, Mr. Han will face his third hearing in a trial for chargesrelated to his participation in demonstrations that took place between Apriland November 2015[2]. Mr. Han has been in arbitrary detentionat the Seoul Detention Center since December 2015. His sentence is expected tobe handed down in July 2016.

The Observatory has also receivedinformation that KCTU’s Secretary General Ms. Young-joo Lee is currently underself-imposed house arrest at the KCTU headquarters in Seoul in order to avoidbeing arbitrarily detained by the police. Ms. Lee has been in hiding sinceDecember 2015 when the authorities issued a warrant for her arrest forparticipating in the demonstrations between April and November 2015.

Mr. Han’s detention and trial and the arrest warrantagainst Ms. Lee are part of the intensifying judicial harassment against labouractivists in South Korea. According to reports, 20 KCTU other members have alsobeen arrested by police in relation to their involvement in the November 2015demonstration. 12 of them have been released on bail or suspended sentences,while the other eight are awaiting the conclusion of their trials. In addition,over 540 KCTU officers and members have been questioned by the police inrelation to their involvement in demonstrations, many of whom have had to payfines.

The Observatory condemns the ongoingrepression, intimidation, and judicial harassment of labour leaders in SouthKorea, and in particular the arbitrary detention of Mr. Sang-gyun Han andarrest warrant against Ms. Young-joo Lee, 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, and tocancel the arrest warrant against Ms. Lee.

The Observatory is concerned by the ongoingattempts by the South Korean authorities to curtail freedom of association,assembly, and expression, which seem to be aimed at undermining the legitimateactivities of human rights defenders. The Observatory recalls that the SouthKorean authorities have the responsibility to ensure the protection of humanrights in general and of rights related to freedoms of expression, assembly andassociation in particular.

Background information:

On December 10, 2015, Mr. Sang-gyun Han wasarrested by the police at the Jogye Temple in Seoul and was taken to theNamdaemun Police Station, where he remained detained for questioning untilDecember 18 when he was transferred to the Seoul Detention Center.

Mr. Han is accused of violating theAssembly and Demonstration Act and the General Obstruction of Traffic (Article185 of the Criminal Code) in relation to his participation in protests thattook place in April and May 2015 to commemorate the first anniversary of thesinking of the Sewol Ferry and to call for an independent and transparentinvestigation into the Sewol Ferry incident. After the protests in April andMay, Mr. Han was summoned by the police for questioning, but he refused toappear for fear that he would be arbitrarily arrested.

On June 23, 2015, an arrest warrant wasissued for Mr. Han, who subsequently went into hiding in the KCTU offices forabout five months. He later sought refuge at the Jogye Buddhist Temple in Seoulcity centre for almost one month, until he was finally arrested while leavingthe temple after the police had surrounded it and attempted to forcibly enterthe building.

Mr. Han began a hunger strike on November30, 2015, in protest against the illegitimate arrest warrant issued against himand the proposed labour reforms that would further limit workers' rights. Hecontinued the hunger strike while in detention, and after his health deteriorated significantly he ended his hungerstrike in early January 2016. In addition, on December 16, 2015, the GeneralSecretary of the International Trade Union Confederation for Asia and thePacific (ITUC-AP) was denied the right to visit Mr. Han at the police station.Police stated that the visit was refused due to “worries about the possibilityof conspiracy and destruction of evidence”.

In response to the crackdown on labouractivists and attempts by the government to pass labour reforms that wouldfurther limit workers' rights, KCTU organised strikes across the country onDecember 16, 2015. Although there were no reported clashes with the policeduring the strikes, the authorities declared the strike “illegal” and announcedthat they would take strict measures against the organisers and participants.The government has reacted similarly to strikes in the past, imposing criminaland civil charges against union leaders and strike participants. During theweek of December 21-25, 2015, KCTU members organised another strike to denouncethe repression of the labour movement in South Korea.

Actions requested:

The Observatory urges the authorities of South Korea to:

i. Guarantee the physical and psychologicalintegrity of Mr. Sang-gyun Han, Ms. Young-joo Lee, and all KCTU members, aswell as all peaceful protesters and human rights defenders in South Korea;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally releaseMr. Sang-gyun Han and all KCTU members, as well as all peaceful protesters andhuman rights defenders in South Korea;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment,including at the judicial level, against Mr. Sang-gyun Han, Ms. Young-joo Lee,and all KCTU members, as well as all peaceful protesters and human rightsdefenders in South Korea;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances that allhuman rights defenders in South Korea are able to carry out their legitimateactivities including the organisation of strikes and peaceful assemblieswithout any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

v. Conform with the provisions of theDeclaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by theUnited Nations General Assembly, in particular:

- its Article 1, which states that “everyone hasthe right, individually or in association with others, to promote theprotection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at thenational and international levels” ;

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

- its Article 12 which states that“everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, toparticipate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights andfundamental freedoms. The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure theprotection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and inassociation with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de factoor de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as aconsequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in thepresent Declaration.”

vi. Ensurein all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms inaccordance with international human rights standards and internationalinstruments ratified by South Korea.


· Mrs. Park Geun-hye, President of theRepublic of Korea, 1 Cheongwadae-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-820, Republic ofKorea, Fax: +82 2770 1690

· Mr. Hwang Kyo-ahn, Prime Minister of theRepublic of Korea, 77-6 Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea. Fax: +82-2-720-35 71

· Mr. Kim Hyun-Woong, Minister of Justice,Government Complex-Gwacheon, Jungang-dong1, Gwacheon-si, Kyunggi-do, Tel:02-2110-3178, Fax: 02-503-7118

· Mr. Yun Byung-se, Minister of ForeignAffairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 60, Sajik-ro 8-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul,Republic of Korea (110-787) Tel: +82-2-2100-2114, Fax: +82-2-2100-7999

· National Human Rights Commission of Korea,Gumsegi Building, No. 16, Ulgiro 1-ga, Jung-gu, 100-842 Seoul, Republic ofKorea. Tel: +82 2 2125 97 00; Fax: +82-2-2125-9718.

· H.E. Choi Kyoung-lim, Permanent Mission ofthe Republic of Korea to the United Nations, 1 Avenue de l'Ariana, Case Postale42, 1211 Genève 20, Switzerland, Tel:(41-22) 748-0000, Fax: 748-0003.

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

[1] KCTU is an organisation representing Korean workersand the trade union movement, committed to advancing workers' empowermentthrough economic, social, and political reform, and the overall democratisationof the country.

[2] Demonstrations were organised in April and May 2015 tocommemorate the first anniversary of the sinking of the Sewol Ferry and to callfor an independent and transparent investigation into the Sewol Ferry incident.KCTU also organised public rallies in November 2014 to express its oppositionto proposed labour law reforms. The charges filed against Mr. Han include“special obstruction of public duty”, “special obstruction of public duty toinjure public officials”, “special destruction of public goods”, “generalobstruction of traffic”, “violation of article 16 of Act on Assembly andDemonstration (matters observed by organizers)”, “failure of dispersion order”,“hosting an assembly at banned place”, “incitement of violence” and “violationof article 11 of the Act on Assembly and Demonstration (Places Prohibited forOutdoor Assembly and Demonstration)”.

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