On Thursday the 8th of September the Seoul District Court sentenced Lee Jong-hwa, the president of Korean Plant Construction Workers’ Union (KPCWU), to six months in prison. He was charged with “traffic obstruction” during a peaceful protest against a regressive labour reform on the 17th of November last year which gathered 100,000 people on the streets of Seoul.
The only thing that Lee Johng-hwa did on the day of the protest was to address his union members. He did not take part in or encourage any illegal behaviors. The court, however, accepted the prosecution’s argument for his general responsibility as the president of the union. The court has also been criticized for scheduling the trial close to Korea’s biggest national holiday Chuseok (the traditional Korean harvest moon festival).
"To protest and assemble peacefully is not a crime but a fundemental human right. The sentence of Lee Jong-hwa is scandalous and the world needs to act against this accelerating witch hunt against trade unionists in South Korea" said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the BWI.
To date, a total of 36 members of the Korean Plant Construction Workers Union have been indicted. Nine of them were sentenced to prison terms (including some given suspended sentences), and two are still in prison – including President Lee Jong-hwa. Others were sentenced to individual fines ranging from two million to ten million Won (about 1,800 to 9,000 US-dollars).
The court’s decision is thought to be a part of the government’s greater attack on the trade unions affiliated to the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU). The police have recently declared the normal union activities of the Korean Construction Workers’ Union as coercion against employers and investigated a couple of dozens of union leaders.
In addition, two members of the KFCITU are still waiting for court decisions in relation with the November 14 rally:
Jeong Sang-ho, vice local president of the Deagu and North Gyeongsang Construction Equipment Branch, the first court ruling is scheduled on 22 September 2016r
Kim Sang-sik, former president of the North Seoul-Gyeonggi Construction Equipment Branch, Sentenced to pay a fine of 1.5 million won and waiting for the appellate court decision (sentencing date not determined).