KCTU president Han Sang-gyun in court. Photo: KCTU
South Korean assaults on trade unions continue
Unfortunately South Korea’s appalling record on the rights of workers and trade unions is being added to. Han Sang-gyun, the President of Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has been sentenced to 5 years imprisonment this week
On 5 January, 2016, Han was indicted for charges related to the “obstruction of public duty”, “destruction of public goods”, “obstruction of traffic” and “hosting and assembly at a banned location”. It is deplorable that all charges against him are related to legitimate and peaceful trade union activities he has undertaken as a union leader. The indictment specifically refers to the commemoration rally of Sewol Ferry Tragedy, when 304 passenger died when the the ferry capsized – most of who were secondary school pupils. The authorities also regarded as criminal activity a May Day demonstration, a pension reform demonstration as well as protests against labour law reforms and the Peoples Mass Rally. All of these demonstrations took place in 2015.
Unfortunately, Han is not the only trade unionist facing criminal persecution for their union activities. There are some 585 KCTU leaders and members who were arrested for their participation in the above mentioned protests with 20 of them held in custody and 7 are still in jail while other 13 were convicted and sentenced from 8 months – 1.5 years in prison. These include Lee Young-joo, the Secretary General of KCTU who received arrest warrant by the authorities last December for her participation in public rallies in 2015 and has been under self-imposed house arrest at the KCTU headquarter office since then.
Another trade union leader facing imprisonment is the Vice President of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU) Cho Sung-deok . For him, the prosecution has asked for a prison sentence of 5 years. He will be sentenced on 21 July 2016
Criminal charges against union leaders and members are a clear violation of fundamental rights and in particular the right to freedom of association. Regrettably, these repressive measures seem to have become a common response by the Korean government against dissenting voices.