ITF unions protest harsh sentencing of Korean trade unionists

The ITF and ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) have strongly condemned the harsh sentencing yesterday of Sang-gyun Han, president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).

Mr Han has been sentenced to an unprecedented five years in prison and a 500,000 KRW (about €400) for charges related to his legitimate human rights activities. This is the first time such a harsh sentence has been handed down in South Korea in relation to the participation in an ‘illegal rally’.

Judge Dam Shim of the Seoul Central District Court deemed that as KCTU president, Mr Han was ultimately responsible for the altercations between police and demonstrators during a rally in November 2015. In fact, Mr Han had consistently called for calm and had dissuaded demonstrators from violence.

Judge Shim also absolved the police of responsibility for the altercations, despite the fact that the police had deployed some 20,000 officers, 19 water cannons, 679 buses, and 580 pepper spray devices against the peaceful marchers.

A further 19 KCTU members and officers were detained and indicted following the November rally. So far, 13 have been released on bail or suspended sentences while the remaining six are still in custody awaiting the outcome of their trials, including KCTU director Tae-sun Bae, who faces a possible six-year prison sentence.

ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton urged the South Korean authorities to end the judicial harassment of labour and rights activists, and to overturn Mr Han’s and Mr Lee’s sentences in their entirety and to withdraw charges against Sung-deok Cho, vice president of the Korean Public Transport Union.

He said: “We condemn the ongoing repression, intimidation, and judicial harassment of labour leaders in South Korea. ITF unions are protesting in numbers about these significant and blatant abuses of workers’ rights.“

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