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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2006 - South Korea

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 14 March 2007
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2006 - South Korea, 14 March 2007, available at: [accessed 29 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Release of Mr. Anwar Hossain and ongoing acts of harassment against him113

On April 25, 2006, Mr. Anwar Hossain, president of the Migrant Workers' Trade Union (MTU), and a Bangladeshi national, was released on medical grounds. He was detained at the Cheonju immigration detention centre since May 2005. He was taken to hospital on the same day, and later granted a visa without time limit, which would enable him to be treated in Korea.

However, during the 14th Asian Regional Meeting (ARM) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that was held in Busan from August 29 to September 1, 2006, the government prevented Mr. Hossain from participating as a delegation member of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), to which the MTU (which is not legally recognised) is affiliated. The government threatened to arrest him again and to expell him from the country. The Ministry of Labour allegedly removed Mr. Hossain's name from the list of participants given to the ILO, stating that he had an illegal status.

Mr. Hossain was eventually able to participate in the meeting as a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

Mr. Anwar Hossain had been arrested on May 14, 2005 by police officers of the immigration control division because his visa had expired. He was beaten and suffered injuries to his head and hands during his arrest. The same day, one of his articles criticising the government's policy towards illegal immigrant workers had been published in an important national newspaper.

Repression campaign against KGEU114

In 2006, a number of measures were taken by the South Korean government to repress the Korean Government Employees' Union (KGEU). On January 28, 2006, the "Act on the Establishment and Operation of Official Public Unions" came into force: according to this law, which severely restricts the union activities of civilian government employees, KGEU is an "illegal organisation". Furthermore, on February 8, 2006 the Ministers for Justice, Government Administration and Home Affairs, and Labour held a joint press conference to issue an "Announcement concerning the illegal activities of organisations of public officials", indicating that the government intended to take several repressive measures against the "activities of public servants' illegal organisations".

Finally, the "Directive to Promote the Transformation of Illegal Organisations into Legal Trade Unions", adopted by the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs (MOGAHA) on March 22, 2006, clearly qualifies KGEU as an illegal organisation. Since then, MOGAHA has reinforced its repressive measures against the organisation.

On May 25, 2006, about 200 KGEU members, who were peacefully demonstrating in front of the Rural Development Administration (RDA) against restructuring plans and the repression of KGEU, were attacked by riot police and officers in plain clothes. Several individuals were severely beaten and injured by police officers, including Mr. Kim Jeong Soo, KGEU secretary general, and Mr. Choi Nak Sam, secretary for public relations. Both had to be taken to hospital. Many other participants were arrested, in particular eight KGEU members, against whom arrest warrants were issued and who were later brought to the Suwon Joongbu police station. The Court subsequently approved four of these warrants, which led to the detention of Mr. Park Woon Yong, KGEU secretary in charge of the social conflict department, Mr. Lee Jeong Soo, a leader of the organisation, along with two vice presidents, Mr. Park Kee Han and Mr. Han Seok Woo.

After the gathering was dispersed, 99 other KGEU members were arrested and detained for about 40 hours.

The next day, several women were beaten and harassed by security guards during a violent dispersal of another peaceful gathering in front of the RDA.

On May 28, 2006, the governor of Gyeonggi province closed down the KGEU provincial office, preventing the organisation's members from entering the building. In addition, the local government decided to infiltrate the ranks of the organisation and to proceed to a vote to make KGEU members relinquish their membership to the union and to make them join another so-called "legal" union. In response, KGEU members organised a sit-in in front of their premises. The provincial government retaliated by cutting electricity and Internet access to the union's office.

On June 9, 2006, Mr. Park Woon Yong, Mr. Lee Jeong Soo, Mr. Park Kee Han and Mr. Han Seok Woo were charged by the Suwon Regional Prosecutor's office with "bodily harm by special obstruction of public duty", "special obstruction of public duty" and "violation of the Assembly and Demonstration Act". Mr. Park Woon Yong and Mr. Park Kee Han were also indicted for "violation of the Local Public Officials Act" and Mr. Park Woon Yong for "general obstruction of traffic".

On July 11, 2006, all four men were released on bail, but the charges mentioned above were still pending as of the end of 2006.

On August 3, 2006, the MOGAHA issued a decree that specifically requested all local governments, ministries and agencies to take "firm action" against KGEU and "to take thorough counter-measures, including the forceful closing down of illegal organisations of government employees". In particular, the MOGAHA asked for "the closure of all KGEU offices in government buildings by August 31, 2006", the "exclusion of KGEU members from staff meetings, the active encouragement of all government employees to withdraw from illegal organisations, the prohibition of union dues and the blocking of all financial support [...]". Finally, the Ministry announced that it would take administrative and financial measures against local governments that did not implement these measures.

As a consequence, on August 29, 2006, the Gyeongnam Officials Training Institute, an affiliated agency to the provincial government, issued a letter informing that "forceful administrative measures would be executed (...) according to the government's instructions that prohibit providing offices to unregistered government employees' unions, according to the Act on Official Public Unions".

On August 30, 2006, members of the KGEU Gyeongnam regional branch held a rally in front of their office in order to protest against this letter. Anti-riot police was deployed inside and outside the building, thus preventing KGEU members from entering the office. Several union members tried to enter by force, but were forcefully dispersed by the police. The union signboard was removed and the doors sealed off.

On August 17, 2006, Busan Metropolitan City Council issued a written warning to the KGEU Busan regional branch that its office would be forcefully closed if the union did not move out by August 31, 3006.

On September 4, 2006, the MOGAHA held a meeting with deputy mayors during which it indicated that all KGEU local offices in government buildings should be closed down by September 22, 2006. The Ministry also claimed that notifications or warnings of the forceful closure of the offices of illegal organisations should be issued permanently and that supervision of government employees should be intensified in order to prevent them from joining a KGEU rally in Gyeongnam on September 9, 2006. That day, around 7,000 KGEU members reportedly gathered in Changwon, Gyeongnam-do, in order to protest against the government's repression. KGEU gave prior notice of the assembly to MOGAHA, which nevertheless declared it illegal, and said it would punish all government employees and union leaders who took part in or organised the demonstration. MOGAHA also announced that 11 KGEU leaders, including Mr. Kwon Seung Bok, its president, and Mr. Kim Jeong Soo, would be prosecuted.

On September 13, 2006, MOGAHA published another directive demanding governments and local ministries to close all local chapters of KGEU by September 22, 2006.

On September 22 and 25, 2006, several KGEU regional offices were attacked and shut down, including the one in Busan, which was raided by anti-riot police before being forcefully closed down. Seventeen KGEU members were arrested, including Mr. Oh Bong Seop and Mr. Hwang Gi Joo, president and secretary general of the branch respectively. They were released on September 23 and 24, 2006.

As of October 10, 2006, 125 of the 251 KGEU branches had been forcefully closed. Groups of men, allegedly hired by municipalities, systematically stormed various KGEU local offices and forcefully removed their members, as riot policemen blocked access to the buildings, in some cases cutting off electricity, Internet access and phone lines. In addition, 101 KGEU members and members of other sympathising organisations, such as the Korean Federation of Transportation and Public & Social Service Workers' Unions (KPSU), the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the Korean Federation of Medical Groups for Health Rights (KFHR), the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM), the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the Moojigae Community for Alternative Education (MCAE), were arrested. Some were brutally beaten and had to be taken to hospital. They may all face prosecution for "violating the provisions relating to the obstruction of the performance of official duties under the Criminal Code". Public servants could face additional charges for violating the Public Officials Act.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website ( was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

113. See Annual Report 2005.

114. See Annual Report 2005 and Urgent Appeals KOR 001/0606/OBS 066, 066.1, 066.2 and 066.3.

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