South Korea
Urgent Interventions

Release of trade union leader Lee Young-joo

Paris-Geneva, June 15, 2018 - The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a FIDH-OMCTpartnership) welcomes the release of South Korean labor rights defender LeeYoung-joo but decries her conviction on trumped-up charges.

On June 14, 2018, theSeoul Central District Court sentenced Lee Young-joo to a suspendedthree-year prison terms and a 500,000 won (approximatively 400 Euros) fine. Atapproximately 12:00pm on this day, Lee Young-joo was released from the SeoulDetention Center.

The outcome of Lee Young-joo’s trial was a classic case of a‘face-saving’ solution for the court. The suspension of Lee Young-joo’s prisonterm allowed her to walk free but the harsh sentence imposed was meant to showthat she deserved to be punished for organizing and participating in a laborprotest, saidFIDH Asia Desk Director Andrea Giorgetta, who observed all three trial hearingson July 11, 12, and 14, 2018.

On June 12, 2018, the prosecution had demandedLee Young-joo be sentenced to five years in prison and a 500,000 won fine oncharges of “obstruction of traffic”, “special destruction of public goods”, andviolation of Articles 11 and 16 of the Assembly and Demonstration Act.

Lee Young-joo lived under self-imposed housearrest at the headquarters of the Korean Confederation of TradeUnions(KCTU) in Seoul from December2015 to December 2017 in order to avoid being arrested by police in connectionwith her participation in a demonstration to protest against proposed laborreform on November 14, 2015 in central Seoul. She was eventually arrested onDecember 27, 2017 and detained at the Seoul Detention Center.

We welcome Lee Young-joo’s release, yet she should havenever been prosecuted in the first place. Her arbitrary detention was clearlyaimed at punishing her legitimate human rights work as well as her leadershipof KCTU and we trust that she willnot be subjected to any further reprisal, said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

In an opinion issued on April 25, 2017, theUnited Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared thedeprivation of liberty of former KCTU President Han Sang-gyun’sarbitrary because it resulted from the exercise of his right to freedom ofexpression and peaceful assembly. Han was arrested on December 10, 2015 for hisparticipation in the November 12, 2015 demonstration. In the same opinion, theWGAD discussed the case of Lee Young-joo but was unable to express an opinionin relation to her case because at that time the arrest warrant against her hadnot been served and she was not being detained. However, the WGAD noted the“factual similarities” between Han and Lee’s cases and recalled that thegovernment had a responsibility to prevent arbitrary arrest and detention inthe context of peaceful assemblies. On May 21, 2018, Mr. Han Sang-gyun wasreleased on parole because he had served 80% of his three-year prison sentencein connection with the November 14, 2015 demonstration.

TheObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) wascreated in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). Theobjective of this program is to prevent or remedy situations of repressionagainst human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights DefendersMechanism implemented by international civil society.

For more information, please contact:

· FIDH: Maryna Chebat: +33 648 05 91 57 e-mail: / Samuel Hanryon: +33 6 72 28 42 94e-mail:

· OMCT : Delphine Reculeau :+41 22 809 49 39 / email :

Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts