On July 4, Mr Han, Sang-gyun, President of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), was sentenced to imprisonment for a term of five years. Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU) Vice President, Cho Sung-deok, is undergoing trial from behind bars, and is also facing a prison sentence of five years. He will be sentenced on July 21.
These charges come in the context of an ongoing crackdown on union rights in Korea, which has also involved multiple raids on union offices and the investigation, arrests, and imprisonment of union officers and members.
In November 2015, police attempted to suppress a mass rally held to protest labour law reforms which would provide lower wages and make it easier to fire workers. The police responded to clashes with protesters with disproportionate force, including targeting demonstrators with water cannons, leaving a 69-year old in critical condition. According to the judge who heard the case, as the head of the KCTU, Mr Han, Sang-gyun is being held accountable and is accused of being the person responsible for all the actions taken during the rally.
Maina Kia, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, expressed deep concern about the situation which has unfolded following the mass rally. In particular, he found that “numerous actions by authorities” including investigations and arrests of union members and officers created a “chilling effect on the exercise of peaceful assembly rights”, and that “charging assembly participants with certain criminal offenses, such as the general obstruction of traffic, de facto criminalises the right to peaceful assembly”.
These charges are contrary to fundamental labour and human rights and go against the rules of a democratic society. CUPE stands in solidarity with Korean trade unions. We urge the court of appeal to reverse Mr. Han’s verdict, and call on all CUPE members to sign the Public Services International petition addressed to the tribunal that will sentence Vice President Cho.