The Summary Report of the Infringement Cases in South Korea to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression

10월 15th, 2010 | Posted by admin in (i) Submissions to the UN | 1. Documents from Minbyun | 2. Documents from other NGOs

The Summary Report of the Infringement Cases of Freedom of Opinion and Expression

 in South Korea


submitted by


Joint Korean NGOs

for Official Visit of Special Rapporteur in Republic of Korea


◆   Contact Point:

Mr. Dong-Hwa Lee

International Coordinator

MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society


Tel: +82 522 7284 / 82 10 9947 9920

Ms. Ka-Won Lee

Program officer

Korea Center for United Nations human rights policy (KOCUN)


Tel: + 82 2 6287 1210/ 82 10 9408 4881
■  Area of Freedom of Thought and Conscience

  1. 1.      National Security Act


The National Security Act is notoriously known as an unjust law that oppresses the freedom of thought and conscience in Korea. Human Rights Committee recommended in its concluding observation to the initial and second report submitted by the Korean government that the Act should be phased out (CCPR/C/79/Add.6, 25.Sep. 1992 and CCPR/C/79/Add. 144, 1.Nov.1999). It is also strongly recommended to be abolished in both reports of the Special Rapporteur on the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression upon his country visit in 1998 (E/CN.4/1996/39/Add.1) and the Universal Periodic Review in 2008 (A/HRC/8/40) Although the number of those prosecuted under the Act was constantly decreased from 2000 to 2008, it tends to be increased since the current administration took office. 

  1. 2.      Dismissal of Military Judicial Officers after Filing a Constitutional Appeal 


In July 2008, the Ministry of National Defense designated 23 seditious books according to the three criteria of “praising DPRK, anti-government, anti-U.S. and anti-capitalism “and prohibited them within the country. In response, seven military judicial officers filed a constitutional appeal on the grounds that the concerned authorities violated the right to know, academic freedom, freedom of conscience, and the right to pursue happiness, under the Constitution. The Ministry of National Defense dismissed, reduced pay, or probated the claimants accusing them of defaming the military by having not gone through the existing suggestion procedures within the military in the first place. In 2009, the National Human Rights Commission presented a written opinion to the Constitutional Court which condemned the designation of seditious books for violating human rights guaranteed under the Constitution such as the freedoms of conscience and information. 

  1. 3.      Section Chief Kim Dong-Il of the Naju District Tax Office


On May 28, 2009, Section Chief Kim Dong-Il of the Naju District Tax Office posted a writing titled “I Know What the National Tax Service (hereafter, “NTS”) Did Last Summer” on NTS online site criticizing that the tax investigation to Taekwang Industry Co., conducted by the former Commissioner of NTS, Han Sang-Yool was politically motivated and it led to the death of former president Roh Moo-Hyun. The post was arbitrarily taken down by the committee of the online site after the post was read over six thousand times. On June 15, 2009, the Gwangju Regional Tax Office expel him on disciplinary ground that he defames NTS and dignity of public official as stated under Article 23 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials of the NTS and the disciplinary action made him no longer subject to pension system for public officials. On June 17, 2009, the NTS filed a defamation case against Kim to the Gwangju Regional Prosecutors’ Office under Article 63 of the State Public Officials Act (public officials maintaining dignity) and Article 23 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials of the NTS. The Gwangju Nambu Police Station, however, acquitted Kim. Kim filed for an appeal to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security and it decided to light the disciplinary measure taken to Kim on January 15, 2010 so that he could at least take advantage of pension system. 

  1. 4.      Kim I-Tae Blows the Whistle on the Grand Canal Project


Kim I-Tae was a researcher for the Korea Institute of Construction Technology and studied on the president Lee’s election pledge, the plan to build a canal connecting Incheon to Busan by tunneling a way through the Joryung Mountain of the Sobaek Mountains. On May 23, 2008, he wrote an online post titled “I am a researcher involved in the Grand Canal Project” on “Agora”, a online discussion forum, and revealed that “the plan to connect the waterways and maintain the four main rivers of the Korean Peninsula is to build a canal in the end.” The vice president of the institute officially stated that Kim would not be punished. However, he was solely investigated by the institute. The institute convened a disciplinary action committee and suspended Kim for 3 months due to revealing personal opinions to the public without consultation and violating rules and regulations of the institution by degrading the dignity of the institution.

  1. 5.      The Korean Teachers & Education Workers’ Union


On June 18, 2009, the Korean Teachers & Education Workers’ Union (hereinafter, “KTU”) made a declaration on the current situation (hereinafter, “declaration”) with the signatures of 17,000 teachers. It made a second declaration on July 19 in Seoul Plaza with 28,000   signatures. These events were an extension of the many declarations that have been made since the initiating declaration made by 102 public figures including professors and religious figures on May 28, 2009. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology held two Assistant Superintendent Meetings on June 26 and July 31 and handpicked 89 people who had actively participated in the two declarations to be prosecuted. Also, the Ministry has expelled Jeong Jin-Hoo, president of KTU, and asked regional education offices to dismiss 21 and suspend 67 teachers. Up until March 9, the first trials when it comes to the charges against violating the State Public Officials Act have taken place five times and the rulings are varied. Also, Jeong Young-Bae, head of the Chamgyoyook Committee in KTU headquarters, filed to have the dismissal withdrawn to the Seoul Administrative Court on February 4, but the application was rejected on the 11th. During the investigations, the government suspected the union member of political activities. On January 25, the Seoul Yeongdeungpo Police Station initiated investigations on 292 members of KTU and the Korean Government Employees Union (hereinafter, “KGEU”) to find out whether they were members of a certain political party. Mid-investigation on March 2, the Police stated that it hands the case over to the prosecution. Now 112 people (84 of KTU and 28 of KGEU) are charged with engaging in political activities as a member of the Democratic Labor Party, 2 are charged with being a member of the party, and 170 people are accused of having funded the party. These charges which are highly likely related to the Union member’s obligation to be politically neutral are expected to affect the rulings on the declaration case.

  1. 6.      Korean Government Employees Union


Following the declaration made by 102 distinguished social figures including academics and religious leaders on May 28,2009, Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU) displayed a newspaper advertisement saying “We Want to be Public Officials Serving to the people, not to the Administration” on July 13. On July 19, members of the KGEU attended “the Second Pan-national Rally for the Recovery of Democracy and People’s Livelihood.” In retaliation, the Lee administration filed a criminal charge against 16 heads of the union and took disciplinary action against 57 members, 18 of whom were expelled or dismissed. The Korean Government Employees Union, Korean Democratic Government Employees Union (KDGEU), and the Korean Court Workers Union (KCWU) were integrated into the KGEU based on the general election taken place on September 21~22, 2009. However the Ministry of Public Administration and Security along with other governmental institutions hindered the election by observing the whole voting process and limiting time for vote. On October 20, the Ministry of Labor cancelled the union’s establishment registration given that it allows dismissed workers to join and participate in its work. Moreover, the authorities ruled out the union’s bargaining rights and ordered its 53 offices to be closed down. On December 4, the Ministry rejected to confirm the establishment of the newly integrated union asking it to be modified. In response, KGEU deleted the phrase “Elevating political status” in its regulations as according to the modification requirement of the ministry. Also, regulations regarding the membership of dismissed workers, modified in accordance with the Public Officials Labor Union Law, were put to a vote on October 23~24, 2010. The modification was accepted, and the establishment registration was filed on the 25th. The registration was again revoked on the grounds that it was identified that dismissed workers and those in charge of business affairs were still members of the union and were participating. In response, the KGEU took legal action to cancel the revocation and also sued the Minister of Labor to prosecution. The government announced that it would revise the Code of Conduct for Public Officials so that it can criminally charge against a public official who violates the code of conduct and the obligation to stay politically neutral on the Internet including the homepage of the KGEU. Moreover, on October 2009, the government banned the “public ceremony” which is to commemorate those who was killed for democracy and kept them from expressing opposite opinions to the national or local policies under the revised Code of Conduct for Public Officials. Furthermore, the authorities try to make a legislation to prohibit public servants both of the National Election Commission and court from joining and forming unions.

■   Areas of Freedom of Speech and Defamation of the State


  1. 1.      National Interest Service Sues Director of the Hope Institute, Park Won-soon, for Two Hundred Million KRW in Damages


In June 2009, Park Won-soon, director of the Hope Institute, a citizen participatory research institute, partially revealed the practice of the National Intelligence Service (hereinafter, “NIS”) in an interview with Weekly Kyunghyang, investigation and exerting its influence on civilians. Park told the magazine that “NGOs are having financial difficulties since NIS investigates every high level personnel of companies who are once related to NGOs.” He asserted that “some of these events cannot take place without the existence of an overall command structure.” He gave some specific examples of the Hope Institute such as the contract with the Ministry of Public Administration and Security to create a public relations center over the term of three years, which was cancelled after one year. Another example was the relationship between the Hope Institute and Hana Bank in supporting small businesses such as microcredit which even led to a press conference, but was suddenly foundered. “We later came to realize that the NIS was involved,” he said. The NIS responded that his accusations were groundless. An employee of the NIS revealed that “NIS is a government institution and therefore cannot interfere with or hinder the activities of non-profit organizations.” The NIS then sued the director for KRW 2 hundred million in damages for defaming the “nation” with false information.


  1. 2.      The Arrest and Prosecution of the “PD Notebook” Production Crew


“PD Notebook”, is a program reporting exclusively on current social events. On May 2008, the episode “Are we safe from Mad Cow Disease?” was aired that beef with mad cow disease which is known to be fatal to the people’s health could be imported due to the FTA negotiations with the U.S. government. The Minister for Food, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries and others directly involved in the negotiations filed a defamation suit against the program team. Prosecution urgently arrested the producer of the program, searched and seized the emails of the writer, and revealed the contents of the emails to the media which was believed to be apparent violation of human rights.  Meanwhile, Lim Su-Bin, the chief prosecutor of Criminal Division 2, Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul, stood on a negative side regarding the method of investigation done by the prosecution by saying “it is unnecessary to arrest or search and seize since the report was about the public issue and damage caused by defamation isn’t specified,” and he resigned in early 2009. The prosecution formed a new investigating team and sued the whole production staff for defamation. The court found them all innocent on January 2010.

  1. 3.      Labour Union of YTN


Gu Bon-Hong was a special reporter during the presidential campaign of President Lee Myong-bak. In 2008, he was elected as president of Yonhap TV News (hereinafter, “YTN”) at a shareholder meeting. Labor unions of YTN protested against the decision by hindering Gu’s arrival to work. The company retaliated by conducting change in personnel and suing six union members on grounds such as obstructing normal operations of the company. In October, 33 union members were severely punished, including six members who were dismissed. The anchors of YTN started a “black strike.” The Korea Communications Standards Commission (hereinafter, “KOCSC”) decided to severely punish participants of the strike on the grounds that they violated fairness. Also, programs of the YTN that criticize the government, such as “Dolbalyoungsang (Surprising Images)”, were pulled off the air.


  1. 4.      The Privatization of Public Broadcasting Systems through Actions Such as Firing the President of KBS


Right after being appointed as chairman of Korea Communications Commission (hereinafter, “KCC”) on March 2008, Choi Shi-Joong met with Kim Geum-Soo, board chairman of the Korea Broadcasting System (hereinafter, “KBS”), requiring to have Jeong Youn-Ju, the president of KBS resigned. Upon the request by Choi, Kim Geum-soo was having a meeting with Yang Seung-Dong, the president of the Producers’ Association; Kim Hyun-Suk, the president of the Reporter Association; and Lee Do-Young, the president of the Managerial Association telling them about the discussion he had with Choi over Jeong’s resignation. He added that Chung Chung-Kil, the Chief of Staff to the President, send a former congressman of the Grand National Party to him promising a certain position if he helped Choi have Jeong resigned. In August, the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea reported the result of the special inspection into the matter, and concluded that Jeong be dismissed. The KBS board of directors agreed to dismiss Jeong, and President Lee Myong-Bak finally dismissed Jeong who had more than one year left before the end of his term. While all this happened, it is reportedly that Choi; Chung; Lee Dong-Kwan, Blue House Spokesperson; Yoo Jae-Cheon, chairman of the KBS board; Kim Eun-Goo, former director of KBS; and Choi Dong-Ho, former vice president of KBS held a private meeting. The employees of KBS started demonstrating against the government’s movement to control the public broadcasting system. However, disciplinary actions were laid down on the employees or demotion was taken by the newly appointed president, Lee Byung-Soon in retaliation of the protest.

  1. 5.      Taming MBC


Since June 26, 2008, the Lee Myung-Bak administration criticized “PD Notebook” of Munhwa Broadcasting System (hereinafter, “MBC”) for distorting and fabricating the report on the danger of the Mad Cow Disease of American beef. In July, the KOCSC ordered a public apology and the prosecution started investigation. The management of MBC thereafter accepted the order. The option of privatizing MBC was openly discussed within the Grand National Party and intentions to overturn the Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation (KOBACO) system were revealed, an action which would let the government control MBC from behind by means of commercials. The KOCSC took disciplinary action against programs such as “PD Notebook” and “News Hoo (After the News)”; arrested the producers Lee Chun-Geun and Kim Bo-Seul; attempted to search and seize MBC; replaced the anchor, Shin Kyung-Min; and so on in a constant attempt to tame MBC. The Foundation for Broadcast Culture board of directors is the major shareholder of MBC, and it became constituted of those in favor of the ruling party in July 2009. The new board of directors requested the revision of MBC’s group agreements and the total abolition of programs on current events. This caused controversy on the violation of managerial and program formation rights. Eventually, a board meeting was held with only six members, all who were in favor of the ruling party, and elected MBC directors ignoring the recommendations of Eom Gi-young, the MBC president. Eom resigned in protest. Kim Jae-Chul, the newly appointed president, is known to have ties with President Lee Myung-Bak.

■   Area of Freedom of Assembly and Association


  1. 1.      Assembly and Demonstration Act


The Human Rights Committee recommended in its concluding observation to the initial report submitted by the Korean government (CCPR/C/79/Add.6, 25.Sep.1992) that the government should “take measures to downsize the limits in implementing the right to peaceful assembly. In its concluding observation to the second report of the Korean government (CCPR/C/79/Add. 144, 1 Nov.1999), the committee recommended that “prohibiting all assemblies on all the main streets of Seoul is extensively limiting people’s rights.” The Human Rights Council recommended in the UPR Report (A/HRC/8/40) that the Korean government to create a law that would ensure the freedom of assembly and association. The police exercise ruthless violence on not only participants of rallies, but also workers, farmers, and dispossessed residents who express their right to live utilizing freedom of association. In November 2005, a protesting farmer was beaten to death by the police. In January 2009, five dispossessed residents and a policeman were killed due to excessive suppression by the police. The excessive use of force by the police such as beating with a stick and pounding with a shield, against unarmed rally participants, women, children, and handicapped people, is shielded by anonymity and the policemen who have used this force most likely have not been punished in most cases.

  1. 2.      Candlelight Demonstration against the Import of the U.S. Beef, 2008


In 2008, there was a large-scale demonstration against the import of the U.S. beef. The candlelight demonstration which began on May 2 was preceded in a quiet way, in which students peacefully gathered in Cheonggye Square holding candles during the evening. The police announced that they would take legal action against the promoter because it was an undeclared illegal assembly. The police forcibly dispersed the crowd, while 37 of them got arrested and many of the participants including women got injured. As people who witnessed the brutal repression by the police began to rage, the number of participants grew on a daily basis. The police blasted the demonstrators with water cannons, which were not supposed to be targeted towards people according to the police instructions, but were in fact always aimed at the demonstrators. (After this the police announced that they had changed the instructions so they could launch directly at people.) The demonstrators endured the water cannons with nothing and by no means responded to them violently. As the police began brutal repression with water cannon trucks and SWAT teams, a lot of people including women got seriously injured, to the extent that their heads got struck by clubs and bled. On June 29, an incident happened where the police cruelly smashed and stamped on 80 people belonging to a YMCA action group called ‘Lie-down’, who lay on the ground as an act of nonviolent insubordination in front of the police. Starting on August 5 when the U.S. president Bush visited Korea, the police repression became even more aggressive. The police used water cannons mixed with fluorescent red paint and tear liquid, and the operations by the plain-clothes were carried out indiscriminately. Citizens were considered subject to arrest whenever they got caught in a group on the streets or with mere red stains on their clothes. Reporters from the press were soon freed after their arrest, but independent citizen reporters who had no affiliation were not in the same position. On that day, a total of 167 citizens got arrested. Even on August 15, which is an independence day in Korea, 157 in total got arrested. A few citizens tried to merely hold candles without slogans or pickets in a group of 2 people, in a way of extremely restrained expression, but even this was forbidden by the police.

  1. 3.      The Cut Off of Funds for Organizations that Criticize the Government


According to “Guidelines in Executing Plans to Manage Budget and Funds for the Year 2009”, the Ministry of Strategy of Finance instructed details to limit the governmental grant against the organizations who led or actively participated in candlelight demonstration in June, 2008. The police department defined 17 cases of demonstrations as illegal violent protests among candlelight demonstrations and listed up ‘the illegal violent protest organizations’ (‘2008 current of illegal protest related and violent organization notice’). The list was used for the referred source to cut the governmental grant aid. Accordingly, Ministry of the Administration and Security excluded the following 6 civil organization from their 49 billion(in won) fund of public activity aid in May 7, 2009; Hangeul Culture Solidarity, Save the River Network, Korean Farmers and Fishers Society Institute, Save Our Wheat Movement Main, Korean Women Workers Association. Similar grant restriction cases have been often continued in government institution and local self-governance institution.

In a case of the Ministry of Gender Equality, the Ministry required a confirmation report not to spend the fund in the illegal protest purpose or participate in the illegal protest when submitting the fund request application. The Ministry of Gender Equality canceled the collaboration business and grant distribution to Women’s Call for not complying to submit the report. Women’s Call filed lawsuit against the cancellation decision and won the case. The prosecution immediately appealed to the case. The Women Worker’s Association also raised lawsuit against Ministry of the Administration and Security, but it was turned down at the 1st trial and the case appeal was submitted to the Seoul Administration Court.

In the case of Seoul Human Rights Film Festival and Independence Writer’s Forum Council, the organizations were recognized of outstanding performance and expected to grant fund in the preliminary evaluation process. However, in the final evaluation of Korean Film Council (KOFIC) December 24, 2009, they were unprecedentedly excluded from the aid for participating in the candlelight assembly. These organizations filed an administration suit against KOFIC. Also, March 2, 2010, Seoul Human Rights requested use of Cheong-Gye Square to hold its 14th Human Rights Film Festival, but this request was disapproved by the Seoul Public Facility Management Department.

In February 5, 2010, the Korean Culture and Arts Council sent an official request of confirmation report not to attend in protest to Korea Writer’s Council and the Dae-Gu branch,    Northern Jeol-ra branch of Korea National Artist Association, even though the organizations were already decided of Culture Art Promotion Fund. Consequently, Korea Writer’s Council gave up the entire right to 3.4 million KRW grant fund of 2010. They had to stop issuing the organizational magazine, “Writers Opening Tomorrow’ and now are deploying ‘Writing Movement in Resistance’ for the expression of boycott.

In 2008, a high school authority in Seoul warned students to be expelled for participating in the candlelight culture event. A high school student, named Kim In-Sik, was deprived of the statue as a student council representative candidate. In another case, the police forcefully arrested 4 juveniles while winding up the candlelight demonstration and forced them to write the self-restraint letter for the condition of warning release.

  1. 4.      Square Use Restrictions due to Ordinance


Despite their names, Seoul Square and Gwang-hwa-moon Square are not allowed to be held even the press conference. For an assembly in Seoul Square, an assembly host must acquire use permits from both Police Department and Seoul City. In May 2009, soon after former Mr. President Noh Moo-Hyun’s death, citizens spontaneously wanted to hold memorial ceremony at Seoul Square but police disapproved it for the possibility of illegal protest. Although Korean Constitution codifies to prohibit the permission system of Assembly and Demonstration, Seoul City runs the permission system of Seoul City ordinance to hold an assembly at Seoul Square (Ordinance in Seoul Square Use). In June 10, 2009, Democratic Party and civil organizations including Participatory Solidarity reported an assembly for ‘National Culture Memorials for June Struggle Succession and Democracy Restoration’ and filed an application for square use permission. They were turned down and noticed to be restricted to use the square. Nearly all assembly and cultural event by civil society organization have been disapproved thereafter. Korean civil society succeeded in collecting 10 million Seoul Citizens signatures to change this Seoul square ordinance from ‘Use Permission’ to ‘Use Report’ system and submitted the signature list to Seoul City in attempt to request for the ordinance amendment.

Gwang-Haw-Moon Square, opened to the public in August 2010, has even bigger problems. Because the United States Embassy is close in distance, all assembly and use of the square is disallowed and operated by permission system of Seoul City. Any assembly or event criticizing government is blocked before attempt and even press conference is prohibited by police. In August 3, 2009, civil organizations including Culture Solidarity held a press conference to oppose the closed operation of Square and 10 of civil activists were arrested during a peaceful press conference. Police forced to wind up the conference and convicted the arrested activists for holding an unreported assembly in charge of violating Assembly and Demonstration Act. Also, police insisted a peaceful one person picket demonstration as illegal protest and arrested the individuals over several times.

  1. 5.      Yongsan Incident


On January 20, 2009, there happened a tragic incident where the tenants of the redevelopment area Yongsan 4th Zone in Seoul, who had been arranged to be demolished from the site, built a lookout tower on the rooftop of a building and staged a sit-in, whereupon 5 of the tenants and 1 policeman died from the huge fire during the police repression. From the very day of incident, demonstrations and street demonstrations were held separately on Jan. 23, 31, and Feb. 7 and 14, but the police either blocked the protest or dispersed the crowd by brutal means. Therefore, the demonstration planned on Feb. 21 could not even gather the participants. On that day, a child of one of the victims was dragged into the police unit and lynched, while the bereaved were brutally beaten down and the portraits of the deceased broken by the police at the same time. During this period the government deployed thousands of armed police in the center of Seoul, places such as Cheonggye Square, and blocked the demonstrations related to the “Yongsan incident”. As the street demonstrations dwindled, candlelight demonstrations at night followed round the tragic site, and the priests participated afterwards. On June 19, the police attacked one of the Catholic priests who had been staging a hunger strike in order to bring the solution, and on 21, another priest was released after the brutal arrest. The chairpersons of the task force of this accident have been arrested and are currently under trial on suspicion of holding the demonstrations.

  1. Strike of Ssang-Yong Motor Workers


1500 workers belonging to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) metal labor union of Ssangyong Motors occupied the factory from May 22 to August 6, 2009, to protest against the company’s massive job-cut plan. Hence, the company hired a total of 380 security guards from June 7 to July 6, and tried to forcibly enter the plant with the security guards. These hired guards used indiscriminate violence to the workers during the suppression, yet the government connived with the incident. When the workers put up a stubborn resistance, the company cut water and electricity supplies. Therefore, the workers suffered from stress injuries in a desperate situation, where not even medical teams and daily necessities could go into. On June 11, one of the unionists who had been under the intense pressure of company’s restructuring suddenly died of stress. And on August 4, the government began a crackdown on the workers. Spraying tear gas into the air throughout the crackdown, the riot police threatened the workers with forklift trucks, sprinkler trucks, and the containers holding SWAT teams inside. 2500 riot polices and 25 squadrons were dispatched to suppress the protest, and they were armed with shields, clubs, rubber bullets, and even iron pipes and taser guns. Many of the workers got serious injuries including 2nd degree burns and conjunctivitis from both direct and indirect contact with the tear gas. 4 of the union workers and 2 of their family members were driven to death by this Ssangyong Motors struggle, and 94 workers were placed under arrest, with 22 among them sentenced to imprisonment. Many of the workers who got kicked out after the strike have been trying to get another job, but it is not easy for them to even dream of it due to the social stigma. A lot of them are currently working as temps or day laborers, and are suffering from another kind of stress.

  1. 7.      Limitation of Right to Join a Union or Government Employee


Running against the ILO Convention No.87, the law on establishment and operation of government employees’ union limits eligibility of union membership to those who are grade 6 or below, and excludes government employees in public security as well as general administration such as personnel management and budget(including fire-fighters, prison officers, labor inspectors). As a result, more than 50% of government employees are deprived of their right to organize. In addition to this, a amend of the existing law which put a ban on government employees union’s accession to confederation and National Election Commission employees’ joining union has been initiated.

  1. 8.      Korean Construction Workers Union and Korean Transport Workers’ Union


In 2008, Ministry of Labor ordered Korean Construction Workers Union (KCWU) and Korean Transportation Workers Union (KTWU) to drive some of its members, such as dump truck drivers, concrete mixer truck drivers out and stated that otherwise it will return union certification of those unions. This measurement was taken after some employers organization had filed a petition claiming that those workers are not recognized as workers who are covered the labor laws. Finally, the ministry returned the union certification of KCWU when the union requested to change the name of its representative after union election.

  1. 9.      Union Pluralism at Enterprise Level and Bargaining Channel Unification


The revised Trade Union and Labor Relation Adjustment Act (TULRAA) which was passed on January 1st, 2010 delayed implementation of union pluralism at enterprise level until July 1st, 2011, ignoring repeated recommendation by the Committee on Freedom of Association of ILO. In addition to this, it introduces compulsory bargaining cannel unification which grants rights to
bargain only to a major union. It infringes right to bargain collectively, a core element of 3 basic labor rights.

10.  Cancellation of Collective Bargaining Agreements


The TULRAA stipulates that one party of labor or management can cancel the valid CBAs through unilateral notification before 6 months. This provision infringes the right to bargain collectively which is guaranteed by the Constitution and are being misused by employers for the purpose of repression of unions. Lee Myungbak government is promoting cancellation of CBAs in public sector aggressively, and it is spreading to private sector rapidly. In 2008 and 2009,  there were 12 cases in public sector, 11 cases in metal industry, 4 cases in finance industry, 3 cases in private services industry, 4 cases in hospitals, 11 cases in elementary and secondary schools, 1 case in university of unilateral cancelation of CBAs.

11.  KCTU general strike against Candlelight Demonstration


ILO considers so-called ‘political strike’ legitimate when it is aimed at increasing workers’ social and economic conditions. But the Korean government strictly interpreted the rights to strike in the Constitution and recognizes a strike lawful when it is for reach an collective bargaining agreement between labor and management on wage and working condition. In this situation, when KCTU staged a general strike against the government’s decision to resume import of US beef which was suspected of having risk of BES, the government consider this strike as an illegal one. Sixty six high-level prosecutors had emergency meeting three days before the strike and said it would arrest all those who organized the walkout. According to this, KCTU President Lee Suk-haeng, First Vice President and General Secretary and other active union leaders such as president of
Hyundai Motor Branch of KMWU was arrested against the article 314 of Criminal Code(Obstrction of Business). ILO and UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights repeatedly expressed their concern on this practice.

12.  Strike of Korean Railway Workers Union


Against the unilateral cancellation of CBAs, the KRWU staged a strike on November 24th, 2009. “Maintenance of Essential Services” which is introduced on January 1st, 2008 limits the rights to strike of workers in public sector. Nevertheless KRWU was conducting its strike abiding by this evil law and this strike was totally lawful. President Lee Myung-bak, however, considered this strike illegal without no reason, saying “No compromise to the union” the prosecution issued areest warrants against major 28 leaders of the union. The KRWU workers ended the strike returned to workplace on December 3. Twenty eight union officials to whom subpoenas were issued appeared in police. The strike was totally legal so that they were not subject to lawsuits, but President Kim Ki-tae and Vice President Kim Jung-han were arrested on 13 and 15 December. Because there was no
violation of existing labor laws leadership were arrested on a charge of “obstruction of business.” The Korail sued the union for compensation of damage of 9.8 billon KRW and took disciplinary measure against 11,000 of union members. On December 16, media presses discovered that Korail
intentionally induced the strike to collapse the labor union.

13.  Maintenance of Essential Services

Compulsory arbitration in essential services of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act (TULRAA), before its revision of 1st January 2008, had been criticized as being a limit to the 3 labour rights as well as being unconstitutional, and was consistently recommended by the ILO to be
improved. However, the introduction of ‘essentially maintained services’ has broadened the scope of essential public services and has also added other restrictions (work substitution and continuation of emergency adjustment), resulting in multiple layers of restriction on the right to strike. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights repeatedly expressed their concern on this practice.

14.  Limit to Right to Collective Action of teachers and government employees

Government employees and teachers are only granted very limited right to collective action. Work-to-rule campaigns such as picketing, wearing of union attire, collectively using annual leave are all banned. Article 58.1 of the Local Officials Act and article 66.1 of the State Officials Act ban collective action.

■  Independent Media/ freedom of cyber expression/ privacy


  1. 1.      Independent Media under threat with Kofic’s unfair public offering process


Korean Film Council (KOFIC) had been maintaining the policy to continue the contract with the designated agents from the civil society to run its media center and independent film theater. This is because these new forms of public media services owed much to the initiatives and commitments of the civil society. Indeed, the operators of these services, Mediact and Indiespace had received high evaluations from not only their users but also KOFIC and Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, showing visionary leadership in the field of media democracy and communication rights in and out of S. Korea. However, becoming of 2009, KOFIC suddenly decided to introduce “public offering process” without clear explanation to find management teams of these services for 1 year. And on Jan. 25, 2010, after holding two selection processes, it announced the new operating teams. The result was that Mediact who, according to KOFIC’s expression, “executed well and have highly performed to manage the Media Center into a superior level” over the past 8 years was beaten by a newly born, conservative civic organization which was formed mere 6 days before the announcement of final selection process. Over the past few weeks, mass media and National Assembly had posed many questions regarding the transparency and fairness of this selection process. However, to all these suspicions and questions, KOFIC kept saying that the process was fair enough. And now it is holding another public selection process for the cinematheque “Seoul Art Cinema”. They are doing this in spite of the fact that KOFIC is funding only 30 % of the whole budget of cinematheque. In this way, KOFIC is causing a great threat to the new public media areas developed by civil society. Regarding the issue, a lot of film people, media related experts and citizens are expressing their great concerns. And the organizations who participated in the public offering process for media center and independent film theater filed lawsuits against the KOFIC’s decisions on March 10.

  1. 2.      Freedom of opinion and expression on the internet


The Internet is an indispensable tool of expression for the Korean people at large. But the administrative deliberation and criminal prosecution on the opinion and expression of individual contributors and bloggers have strengthened. The number of freedom of expression violations reported has increased since the Lee Myung-bak administration took office in 2008, and it is expected to increase further if the law is amended as the government and the ruling party intend.


  1. 3.      Administrative deliberation


The administrative deliberations have imposed harsh regulations on free expression and opinion on the internet. The former Korea Internet Safety Commission was founded in 1994, the same year as when commercial Internet service began, and has recently been reformed to Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC). KCSC conducts internet deliberations firstly for the purpose of controlling the illegal content, such as obscenity, defamation, state secrets, violations of the national security act, and aiding and abetting criminal acts, earlier than the judiciary Secondly, KCSC determines the harmfulness of the content for minors, as well as the healthy communication ethics. Deliberation results recommend the internet service providers (ISPs) to delete postings; although these requests are officially recommendations, failure to comply can lead to an administrative order suspending services. Cases of noncompliance are rare. Especially, the cases deleting postings by the administrative deliberation criticizing the president, the officials, major media, enterprises and the police have increased since the Lee Myung-bak administration took office.

  1. 4.      Criminal prosecution


Since 2008, many Internet users posting articles related to candlelight vigils and criticizing the president, the government and the media have been criminally prosecuted. Internet writers have been subject to criminal punishment for false communication, defamation, and other violations. For example, the public prosecutor prosecuted and employed ruthless investigative tactics such as prohibition of departure, search and seizure, and detention on Internet users who posted the lists of advertisers of major daily newspapers Chosun, Joongang, and Dong-A to protest the biased reports on candlelight vigils and to boycott them. Also the public prosecutor detained and charged a user under the pseudonym ‘Minerva’ for violating the ‘false communication’ posting articles to internet critical of the government’s foreign currency policies.

  1. 5.      Criticism of the public


Postings with criticisms against the President, Government, ruling party politicians, or major media are immediately being deleted. This is based on current law which allows ISPs to delete postings temporarily up to thirty days (without any legal intervention) if one reports that a certain posting has violated his/her privacy or has defamed one’s character. If the ISPs does not take these actions, it is liable for claims of damage. The biggest problem of the temporary deletion is that the government, the ruling party and the police are abusing this system to quickly hide criticism coming its way.

  1. Internet ‘Real-Name Registration’ system


Since 2004, the ‘Mandatory Internet Real-Name System’ was introduced, which is based on an individual’s Resident Registration Number(RRN). This system violates freedom of expression which comes from anonymity, reduces the people’s participation in politics, and intrudes the right to privacy by encouraging the ISPs to collect and misuse sensitive private personal data such as RRN. Since 2004, during election period, all internet newspaper only allow registered users with confirmed identification to upload postings or comments. If the newspapers did not implement the required technical processes, they had to pay a fine. Some internet newspapers were ordered to pay a fine because they refused to follow the real name system, but the Constitutional Court decided to dismiss the case against the system. The system has been expanded. Since 2007, also the major portals, the press, and UCC sites must allow only registered users on the real-name system to upload postings or comments all the time. Since 2009, if the registrant of the Internet domain does not confirm his or her ‘real name’, the domain registry agencies are required to eliminate the domain name. The government and the ruling party are discussing a new law expanding the real name system on the internet.

  1. 7.      Tracing Users


Since the ‘Real-Name Registration’ system, ISPs have been constantly retaining personal data of the users and cooperating with the investigating authorities. The investigative agency doesn’t need a legal warrant in the process of requesting personal information. Thus, the private data of users without any kind of criminal accusation is being handled too easily by the authorities and Internet users are constantly being spied on. The perception that the investigating authorities are watching over the Internet user when they write critical articles about the government make the people daunted . Also the government and the ruling party have made a new law to make ISPs fulfill the wiretapping equipments and retain the user’s log data.

■    Areas of Right to Know and Open access to information


  1. 1.      The diminishing status and functions of the Information Disclosure Committee


Since the Lee Myung-bak administration took office, function of the Information Disclosure Committee and other related authorities such as the Ministry of Public Administration and Security has been downsized as the information disclosure related law revised. Now, General Administrative System Division, which is under Organization Management Office has dealt with information disclosure along with Knowledge System Division and Civil Affairs System Division. Given the General Administrative System of Division is not solely focused on information disclosure but various suggestive work, the government seems overlooking the goal and value of the Official Information Disclosure Act which ensures people’s right to know, public participation in the administration and transparency of government management, but it rather considers information disclosure as one of general administrative work that can be done. Additionally, the revision of the Official Information Disclosure Act, which was agreed between the Ministry of Public Administration and Security of the previous Roh Moo Hyun Administration and every civil society unit, is continuously delayed by the current administration. The following cases show that how deteriorated the condition of right to know and open access to information which are fundamental element for freedom of expression in Korea under 2 year-old Lee’s administration.

  1. 2.      Non-disclosure of the staff’s name and position of the Presidential Room, Non-disclosure of information disclosure list


In April 2009, the Blue House (Cheongwadae) informed that it has decided to keep the name of the staff and position of the presidential room confidential due to national security, in response to the request of the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy to disclose the staffs’ name and position. As stipulated in the Official Information Disclosure Act of Article 9(1)(6) clearly saying that the list of public official in performance should  be disclosed, it is an apparent violation of the Act. In addition, it concealed the information list as well arguing that “the purpose of the documents and content can be inferred and it might bring social and economic misunderstanding and controversy if the list is disclosed.”


  1. 3.      Excessive Information disclosure cost


In 2009, the Open Information Center for a Transparent Society requested the National Archives of Korea for the documents of public agencies during 1945~1978 and the National Archives levied electronic file copy fee worth about 5.4 million won on the information. Since the cost for disclosing information is supposed to be “actual expense” according to the Office Information Disclosure Act, the cost is decided based on the Act’s Enforcement Regulations. However, the Regulation is charging the electronic copies as excessive as it does for the printed copies. As a result, the excessive cost for the request of disclosure of information basically means infringement of right to know.

  1. 4.      Public disclosure of false information

In 2009, the police sprayed a liquid tear gas containing carcinogen that was strong enough to melt styrofoam towards a union member of Saangyoung Motor. So, the Open Information Center for a Transparent Society demanded to each regional police agency for details of the usage of liquid tear gas for the last 10 years. After a week, Gyeong-gi provincial police agency decided not to make the information public saying that “there is no overall record of the usage of liquid tear gas.” Seoul Metropolitan police agency revealed that “there is no record apart from using 25L in Nam-il-dang, Yong-san on 20th January, 2009.” However, on the 8th, Gyusik Kim, the member of the democratic party belonging to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security of the National Assembly, said according to the documents recently received from the police agency, the police used 2136.9L of liquid tear gas in total over 14 times this year and of it, 2041.9L was used in the site of demonstration at the Pyeongtak factory of Ssangyoung Motor. In short, the Kyeonggi provinicial police agency which stated “no record” had falsely disclosed the information to the claimant by ignoring the Official Information Disclosure Act, which stipulates to reveal the truth it has as it is

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Responses