South Korea
Urgent Interventions

Ongoing and unprecedented judicial harassment of members of KCTU and affiliated unions


KOR 002 /1215 / OBS 108.3

Arbitrary detention / Judicialharassment

South Korea

July 13, 2016

TheObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDHand the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new informationand requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in SouthKorea.


TheObservatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing andunprecedented judicial harassment of members and officers of the KoreanConfederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) for their participation in a rally thattook place in November 2015.

According to the information received, as of July 12,2016, six KCTU officers and members of KCTU-affiliated unions remain in policecustody awaiting the outcome of their trials or appeals and facingunprecedented harsh sentences, after they were indicted on charges related to theirparticipation in a demonstration against proposed labour law reforms onNovember 14, 2015 in Seoul (see background information).

In additionto these six detainees, 14 other members of KCTU or affiliated unions were alsoindicted in relation to the November 2015 demonstration and have been releasedon bail or with suspended sentences.

The six whoare currently in police custody at the SeoulDetention Center are:

  • Ms. Tae-sun Bae, Executive Director of KCTU’s Organisation Department, who wasarrested on January 11, 2016, and indicted on February 5, 2016 on charges of“Special Obstruction of Public Duty Injuring Public Officials”, “SpecialDestruction of Public Goods”, “Special Obstruction of Public Duty”, and“Obstruction of General Traffic”. Prosecutors are asking for a six-year prisonsentence. Ms. Bae’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 19, 2016 at 11:00am in Seoul Central District Court Room #423.

  • Mr. Sung-deok Cho, Vice-President of the Korean PublicService and Transport Workers Union (KPTU), who was arrested on January 13,2016, and indicted on February 4, 2016 on “Special Obstruction of Public DutyInjuring Public Officials”, “Special Destruction of Public Goods”, “SpecialObstruction of Public Duty”, “Obstruction of General Traffic” and “Failure toObserve Dispersion Order”. Prosecutors are asking for a five-year prisonsentence. Mr. Cho’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 21, 2016 at 10:00am in Seoul Central District Court Room #506.

  • Mr. Hyun-dae Lee, Director of KCTU’s OrganisationDepartment, who was arrested on January 13, 2016 and indicted on March 14 oncharges of “Special Obstruction of Public Duty”, “Harbouring a Criminal”,“Special Destruction of Public Goods” and “Obstruction of General Traffic”. OnApril 25, 2016 his request for bail was rejected, and now prosecutors areseeking a five-year prison sentence and a 500,000KRW fine (about 400 EUR). Mr.Lee’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 21, 2016 at 10:00 am in SeoulCentral District Court Room #513.

  • Mr. Jun-seonPark, also Director of KCTU’s OrganisationDepartment, who was arrested on December 24, 2015, and indictedon January 18, 2016 on charges of “SpecialObstruction of Public Duty”, “Harbouring a Criminal” and other minor crimes. OnJune 2, 2016 he was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison. Mr. Park’slawyers have until July 26, 2016 to finish filing an appeal, after which ahearing will be scheduled.

  • Mr. Sang-gyun Han, President of KCTU, who was arrested onDecember 10, 2015, and was sentenced on July 4, 2016 to a five-year prison term[1]. On July 8 Mr. Han filed an appeal, and onJuly 11 prosecutors also filed an appeal seeking a longer prison term againsthim[2]. Both the prosecution and the defence willhave to submit their formal justifications for seeking appeal before July 21,2016, and the appeal hearing will be scheduled afterwards.

  • Mr. Jae-shik Lee, member of KPTU and Chair of the “Gumi Local”, wasconvicted on May 12, 2016 to 10 months in prison for “Special Obstruction ofPublic Duty” and other crimes. The prosecution has filed an appeal before theSeoul High Court seeking a harsher sentence, and the Court is schedule todecide on this appeal on July 21.

Of the remaining 14 indicted KCTU members andofficers, three are out on bail while they await the results of theirtrials:

  • Mr. Jae-seungByeon, member of KPTU, charged witha violation of the Act on Assemblies and Demonstrations.

  • Mr. Jeong-ukYang, Chair of the EmergencyCommittee of the Ulsan Nam-ku Branch of the Korean Government Employees' Union(KGEU), charged with “Obstruction of Traffic” and other crimes.

  • Mr. Ji-hoYang, member of KCTU, charged with“Special Obstruction of Public Duty”, and other crimes.

    The 11 others have all been convicted to prison timefor various charges related to “Special Obstruction of Public Duty”, and havebeen released on suspended sentences:

  • Mr. Jae-geun Choi, member of the Korean Metal Workers' Union(KMWU), sentenced to a one-year prison term suspended for two years.

  • Mr. Young-chul Choi, member of the KoreanFederation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU), sentenced toa one and a half-year prison term suspended for two years.

  • Mr. Hyung-chang Jang, Department Executive Director of KFCITU,sentenced to a one and a half-year prison term suspended for three years.

  • Mr. Young-hyun Jeong, GeneralSecretary of theKorean Plant Construction Workers Union (KPCWU)Ulsan Branch, sentenced to a one andfour months prison term suspended for two years.

  • Mr. Beom-jinKang, member of KFCITU, sentenced to a four-month prison term suspended fortwo years.

  • Mr. Ki-hong Kim, member of KFCITU and former Secretary ofKPCWU Ulsan Branch, sentenced on June 15, 2016 to a one and a half-year prisonterm suspended for three years.

  • Mr. Kyung-do Kim, member of KMWU, sentenced to an eight-month prison termsuspended for two years.

  • Mr. Geum-ju Lee, member of KMWU, sentenced to a one-year prison term suspendedfor two years, one year of probation under supervision, and 80 hours ofcommunity service.

  • Mr. Nam-guk Lee, member of KMWU, sentenced to a one-year prison term suspendedfor two years.

  • Mr. Jeong-soo Nam, ExecutiveDirector of KCTU’s Education & Publications Department, sentenced to a one and a half-year prisonterm suspended for three years.

  • Mr. Myung-hunPark, member of KFCITU, sentenced on July 13, 2016 to a one-year prisonterm suspended for two years.

In addition to the 20 KCTU members andofficers who have already been indicted, Ms.Young-joo Lee, Secretary General of KCTU, currently has an arrestwarrant out against her for participating in the November 2015 demonstration.Ms. Lee has taken refuge at the KCTU headquarters in Seoul since December 2015in order to avoid being arbitrarily detained by the police.

The Observatory condemns the ongoing repression andjudicial harassment of the above-mentioned labour leaders and union members, in particular the continued detention of Ms. Tae-sun Bae, Mr. Sung-deok Cho, Mr. Hyun-dae Lee, Mr. Jae-shik Lee, Mr. Jun-seon Park, and Mr. Sang-gyun Han, whichseem simply aimed at deterring the peaceful human rights activities of labourunions and workers' rights organisations in the country.

Background information:

On November 14, 2015, ahead of the rally organisedby KCTU against proposed labour law reforms in Seoul, the police allegedly took pre-emptive measures againstthe peaceful demonstration, mobilising some 20,000 officers from 248 squadrons, 19 watercannons, 679 buses, and 580 capsicum spray devices. Altercations between the police and demonstratorsensued. The police fired water cannons and tear gasdirectly at peaceful marchers. Dozens of civilians and police officers wereinjured, including a farmer named Baek Nam-gi, who was struck by the jet of awater cannon and remains unconscious seven months later. To this day, policehave neither issued an apology nor opened an investigation into the violentactions of the police. On the other hand, the police launched an inquiry where over1,500 civilians were reportedly investigated and 538 KCTU members were summonedas suspects. Ultimately, the above-mentioned 20 KCTU members and officers wereindicted.

The Observatory is concerned by the ongoing attemptsby the South Korean authorities to curtail freedoms of association, peacefulassembly, and expression, particularly for trade union and workers’ rightsactivists. The Observatory recalls that the South Korean authorities have theresponsibility under international law to ensure the protection of human rightsin general and of rights related to freedoms of expression, assembly andassociation in particular.

Actions requested:

The Observatory urges the authorities ofSouth Korea to:

  1. Guaranteethe physical and psychological integrity of all KCTU members and officers, aswell as all peaceful protesters and human rights defenders in South Korea;

  2. Immediatelyand unconditionally release Ms. Tae-Sun Bae, Mr. Sung-deok Cho, Mr. Sang-gyunHan, Mr. Hyun-dae Lee, Mr. Jae-shik Lee, and Mr. Jung-seon Park, as their detention is arbitrary since it only aimsat sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities;

  3. Putan end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against allabove-mentioned trade unionists as well as all human rights defenders in SouthKorea;

  4. Ensurein all circumstances that all human rights defenders in South Korea are able tocarry out their legitimate activities including the organisation of peacefulassemblies without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

    v. Conform with the provisionsof the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 bythe United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1, 5(a) and 12;

    vi. Ensure in all circumstances respectfor human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with internationalhuman rights standards and international instruments ratified by South Korea.


  • Mrs. Park Geun-hye, President of theRepublic of Korea, Fax: +82 2770 1690

  • Mr. Hwang Kyo-ahn, Prime Minister of theRepublic of Korea, 77Fax: + 82-2-720-35 71

  • Mr. Kim Hyun-Woong, Minister of Justice ofthe Republic of Korea, Fax: 02-503-7118

  • Mr. Yun Byung-se, Minister of ForeignAffairs of the Republic of Korea, Fax: +82-2-2100-7999

  • National Human Rights Commission of Korea,Fax: +82-2-2125-9718. E-mail:

  • H.E. Choi Kyoung-lim, Permanent Mission ofthe Republic of Korea to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22748-0003. Email:

  • H.E. Chong-ghee Ahn, Ambassador of theRepublic of Korea to the Kingdom of Belgium, Fax : + 32 (0)2 675 5221/(0)2 6622305

    Please write to the authorities of SouthKorea and the diplomatic representations of South Korea in your respectivecountries urging them to take the actions above.

[1]For more information seeObservatory, ETUC, ITUC and TUAC Joint Press Release published on July 4, 2016.

[2]Prosecutors had originallysought an eight-year prison sentence against Mr. Han. For more information seeObservatory Urgent Appeal KOR 002 / 1215 / OBS 108.2, June 15, 2016.

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