IndustriALL Global Union strongly condemns the two-year sentence handed down to South Korean union leader Cho Sung-deok at a Seoul Central District Court on 26 July.
Sung-deok, vice-president of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers' Union (KPTU), was found guilty of all charges in connection with the mass people’s rally on 14 November 2015 and an earlier protest held on 28 August last year.
“The sentence is yet another brazen attack on trade unions and democracy in Korea, and effectively criminalizes the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. We deplore this latest attempt to crush trade unions in Korea and demand that Cho Sung-deok’s sentence is overturned and he is released,” said IndustriALL's general secretary Jyrki Raina.
The court exonerated police of any illegal action in relation to the excessive use of force at the November rally, at which tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the government and labour reform.
The protest turned violent after police employed 20,000 officers, 19 water cannon, 679 buses, and 580 pepper spray devices against peaceful marchers. A 69-year old farmer remains in a comatose state after being hit by a police water canon.
The sentencing comes just three weeks after Han Sang-gyun, president of the KCTU union centre, was sentenced to five years in prison on similar charges. Four other KCTU and KPTU unionists have also been sent to jail.
Global union leaders from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) attended the court in Seoul to monitor Sung-deok’s sentencing. ITF general secretary Steve Cotton told IndustriALL:
“We will fight this sentence and the culture of persecution that it reveals, all the way. We will act in unity with Korea’s trade unions and the global unions and together we will push back against the deliberate crackdown on lawful trade union activity that has been so dramatically highlighted by this latest court case."
In June 2016, a report on Korea by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association stated, in reference to Han Sang-gyun and other union leaders, that “charging assembly participants with certain criminal offences, such as the general obstruction of traffic, de facto criminalizes the right to peaceful assembly.”