Police charge union leader with sedition, first such charge in 29 years

Posted on : 2015-12-19 19:21 KST Modified on : 2015-12-19 19:21 KST
Civic groups and labor unions planning another large-scale rally in locations around the country, where protestors will wear “loud” masks
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions president Han Sang-gyun is taken from Namdaemun Police Station to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul’s Seocho district
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions president Han Sang-gyun is taken from Namdaemun Police Station to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul’s Seocho district

Police have asked prosecutors to charge Han Sang-gyun, president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU), with sedition, an additional charge. The decision to charge leaders of the KCTU with sedition – a crime that has lain dormant for 29 years – is likely to incite controversy.

“The extreme illegality and violence that occurred during the demonstration were not spontaneous acts by a few protestors but were rather part of a detailed plan by key leaders of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the leaders of related organizations who had prepared for a violent demonstration. After adding sedition according to the criminal code to the other charges against Han, we handed him and his case over to the prosecutors,” the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said on Dec. 18, referring to a national rally that was held on Nov. 14.

The police had previously received an arrest warrant for Han, who they accuse of instigating violence and illegal acts not only at the national demonstration on Nov. 14 but also a demonstration for the Sewol tragedy in April and a demonstration on Labor Day in May. While the arrest warrant listed violations of the Assembly and Demonstration Act and eight violations of the criminal code, including obstructing justice and damaging public property, it omitted sedition, because of accusations that the charge was intended to play on public fears about security.

In explaining why they added the sedition charge, the police emphasized the fact that the “demonstration had greatly harmed the peace of the area.”

“113 members of the police were hurt, and traffic in the area was paralyzed for 10 hours and 45 minutes. We applied the legal principle of an ‘abstract threat to peace,’ concluding that it was possible, at least in the abstract, to see the situation at the time as being capable of endangering the peace of the area,” a police officer said.

The police announced that they would also be adding sedition to charges against some of the 27 group leaders who are currently being investigated. Arrest warrants have already been issued for two of them: Lee Yeong-ju, KCTU secretary general, and Bae Tae-seon, chief of organized labor action.

On Friday, KCTU issued a statement responding to the police’s decision to charge Han with sedition for the first time since a demonstration in Incheon on May 3, 1986. “The police are trying to frame the entire KCTU as a violent and illegal organization in order to rob us of our legal grounds for existing,” the group said in the statement.

“Even if Han is exonerated by the court, this will make it possible for the police and prosecutors to charge demonstrators with sedition instead of simply with obstructing traffic or violating the Assembly and Demonstration Act,” said Jang Jong-oh, a lawyer with the KCTU’s legal center who is representing Han.

In related news, the organizers of the nationwide rally will be holding a third series of rallies on the afternoon of Dec. 19 at a total of 13 locations around the country, including Seoul. Organizers said the rallies are being planned to “pray for the swift recovery of Baek Nam-gi, a farmer who was knocked out the blast of a water cannon fired by the police; to crush the oppression of government security forces; and to oppose government authorship of Korean history textbooks.”

The Seoul rally will kick off at 1 pm with a preliminary assembly in front of the Finance Center in Gwanghwamun and continue with a festival praying for the swift recovery of Baek Nam-gi in front of the statue of King Sejong on Gwanghwamun Square.

The organizers are calling this the “seditious festival.” This is a sarcastic reference to the police’s decision to charge Han with sedition as well as a pun on the Korean words “loudly and boisterously,” which describe the behavior of participants, who are supposed to wear “loud” masks and costumes and bring “boisterous” noisemaking devices.

After the assembly and festival, demonstrators will join a procession leading from the Finance Center, down Jongno Street, and on to Marronnier Park in the Daehangno neighborhood, near Seoul National University Hospital, where Baek is being treated.

By Kim Sung-hwan, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Most viewed articles