South Korea
Urgent Interventions

Release of KCTU former President Mr. Han Sang-gyun and ongoing arbitrary detention of Ms. Lee Young-joo

New information

KOR 002 / 1215 / OBS108.5

Release /

Arbitrary detention /

Judicial harassment
South Korea

May 25, 2018

The Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World OrganisationAgainst Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgentintervention in the following situation in South Korea.


The Observatory hasbeen informed by reliable sources about the release of Korean Confederation ofTrade Unions[1] (KCTU) former PresidentMr. Han Sang-gyun and the ongoingarbitrary detention and judicial harassment of former KCTU Secretary GeneralMs. Lee Young-joo.

According to theinformation received, on May 21, 2018, Mr. Han Sang-gyun was released on parolebecause he had served 80% of his three-year prison sentence in connection with hisinvolvement in a November 14, 2015 demonstration (see background information).Mr. Han Sang-gyun had been arbitrarly detained since his arrest on December 10,2015.

The Observatorywelcomes Mr. Han Sang-gyun’s release but argues that he should have beenunconditionally released, as his arbitrary detention was only aimed atpunishing for his peaceful and legitimate exercise of his right to freedom ofexpression and his right to peaceful assembly[2].

In addition, theObservatory recalls that Ms. LeeYoung-joo has been arbitrarily detained since December 30, 2017, and isfacing charges of “obstruction of general traffic”, “special destruction ofpublic goods”, and violation of Articles 11 and 16 of the Act on Demonstrationand Assembly, in connection with her participation in the November 14, 2015protest. Ms. Lee is currently detained at the Seoul Detention Centre and hertrial is expected to be held on June 11-12, 2018 at the Seoul Central DistrictCourt.

The Observatorystrongly condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention of Ms. Lee Young-joo andcalls for her immediate and unconditional release.


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 gasdirectly at peaceful marchers. Dozens of civilians and police officers wereinjured. The police launched an investigation into the incident, as a result ofwhich over 1,500 civilians were investigated and 538 KCTU members were summonedas suspects. Eventually, 20 KCTU members and officials were indicted and 9 ofthem were sentenced to jail terms.

Since December 2015, Ms.Lee had lived in self-imposed house arrest at the KCTU headquarters in Seoul inorder to avoid being arrested by police in connection with her participation inthe November 14, 2015 demonstration. The police had issued an arrest warrantagainst her with unlimited validity after that 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,she ended her hunger strike because of her deteriorating health. At 7:00 pm onthat day, 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,the Seoul Central District Court issued a detention warrant against her. Thenext day, Ms. Lee was transferred to the Seoul Detention Centre.

On January 23, 2018,Ms. Lee was charged by the Public Prosecutor with “obstruction of generaltraffic”, “special destruction of public goods”, and violation of Articles 11and 16 of the Act on Demonstration and Assembly, in connection with herparticipation in the November 14, 2015 protest.


The Observatory urgesthe authorities of South Korea to:

i. Guarantee thephysical and psychological integrity of Ms. Lee Young-joo, and all KCTU membersand officers, as well as all peaceful protesters and human rights defenders inSouth Korea;

ii. Immediately andunconditionally release Ms. Lee Young-joo as her detention is arbitrary andonly aims at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to allacts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Lee Young-jooand all trade unionists 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 to 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,Prime Minister 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)2675 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,May 25, 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.

[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 politicalreform, and the overall democratisation of the country.

[2] In an opinion issued on April 25, 2017, the United Nations (UN) WorkingGroup on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared Mr. Han’s deprivation of libertyarbitrary because it resulted from the exercise of his right to freedom ofexpression and peaceful assembly.

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