PSPD People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy
[AHRC] Rights Activists Should Be Released
- 2010.02.02 (16:27:41)
After the Yongsan incident took place in January 21, 2009 (please also refer to AHRC-FUA-001-2009), the bodies of those killed during the incident had been kept in the Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital in Seoul. Their relatives had stayed in the hospital together with rights activists against whom the arrest warrants were issued since the incident took place. The Korean prime minister visited the hospital on October 3, 2009 and met with the families of those who lost their lives during the police raid. At the meeting, the prime minister affirmed that he would try his best to solve the current matter. About a month before his visit, the activists who moved to Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral wrote an open letter to the court that they would go to the police station for investigation once the Yongsan incident would be solved and continue protesting. On December 30, 2009, almost a year after the incident, both the family members and Seoul Metropolitan government agreed to have a funeral ceremony which was subsequently held on January 9, 2010.
As soon as the Yongsan incident occurred, around 100 civil and rights organisations as well as religious groups organised a nationwide committee to urge the government to find the truth, punish the perpetrators, pay appropriate compensation and make proper plans for areas that are designated for redevelopment. Mr. Park Lae-gun and Mr. Lee Jong-hoi have undertaken to be representatives of the committee and made various campaigns in order to deliver the messages from the families while the prosecutor’s office and mainstream media had labelled the deceased as 'terrorists'.
The Yongsan case has become political to the current government in the sense of how those who are affected by redevelopment should be protected because the government has designated for many areas of central or outskirts of Seoul as redevelopment sites. In addition, the government has already started construction near four main rivers flowing over the South Korea under the name of ‘maintenance of main rivers’ despite of strong opposition from civil society. However, the real problem in all such process is the absence of the participation from those who are directly or indirectly affected by such plans or policies. Furthermore, the government shows no regard for the due political process. Due to this reason, the police prohibited people and activists from any assembly or demonstration relating to, in particular the Yongsan incident, by imposing a law called, ‘the Act on Assembly and Demonstration’.
According to the Constitution, licensing of assembly shall not be recognised but the Act on Assembly and Demonstration has been applied as the permission system in practice. When the nationwide committee submitted the application for holding an assembly to the police station, it never received approval. The committee hold several commemoration ceremonies for those lost their lives after sunset which does not require permission from the police based on the Act. However, the police interpreted the assembly as illegal and arrested the participants while forcibly dispersing them.
In spite of such discrepancy between the Constitution and the Act, as well as related articles on paper and in practice, the Seoul Central District Court issued arrest warrants against Mr. Park on March 23, 2009 and Mr. Lee on March 2009 respectively. After the funeral ceremony in early January, the two surrendered themselves to the police station and have been detained for further interrogation. They were accused of violating the Act on Assembly and Demonstration as well as Road Traffic Act.
In accordance with the article 214 (2) ((1)) of Criminal Procedure Act, their legal representative requested from the court the review on the legality of their confinement. The court, however, dismissed this claim by saying, "according to the result of interrogation on the suspects and investigation related reports, issuing the arrest warrant was legal and there is need to continue keeping the suspects in custody so that it is acknowledged there is no reason for the defendant's claim, the court decides to dismiss the claim" on January 26, 2010. No further explanation has been given.
The causes for detention are clearly stipulated in the Criminal Procedure Act. The article 70 (1) of the Act says "The court may detain the defendant when there is reasonable ground to suspect that he has committed a crime and he falls under any of the following subparagraphs: 1. When he has no fixed dwelling; 2. When there is reasonable ground enough to suspect that he may destroy evidence; and 3. When he flees or there is reasonable ground enough to suspect that he may flee." In addition, article 70 (2) of the Act further says, "Every court shall take into consideration the seriousness of a crime, risk of repetition of the crime, anticipated harm to the victim, important witnesses, or such, in examining grounds for detention pursuant paragraph (1)."
However, according to the information received, the two activists firstly have permanent resident status, secondly, the police have already finished the initial investigation which was used to ask for arrest warrant and therefore those activists would be unable to destroy evidence and lastly, they have been involved in rights activities for over a decade. Mr. Park has been an activist from SARANGBANG Group for Human Rights since 1994 and Mr. Lee has been involved in the freedom of opinion and expression as well as privacy and been the representative of the Korean Progressive Network Jinbonet since 1998. In this regard, none of the causes for their confinement can apply for the two. Most of all, the Act has been misused by the police and prosecutor, not in a way to protect and promote rights, but to punish those who enjoy such rights enshrined in the international human rights norms and standards. After all, rights activists in South Korea have no choice but to face such legal action in order to realise rights which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the government of South Korea is a state party.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) expresses deep concerns over the arbitrary detention of Mr. Park and Mr. Lee and the application of the Act to them, which is contrary to the international human rights norms and standards. The AHRC is of the opinion that Mr. Park and Lee should not be detained for enjoying their rights and therefore they should be released. The causes for detention should be strictly applied. The AHRC calls for the prosecutor general to stop the process of their prosecution and the Ministry of Justice to closely study such discrepancy so that it can apply for domestic laws in accordance with the Constitution as well as international norms and standards.
What the government of South Korea must do, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, is to address such discrepancies existing in the domestic measures such as administrative, legislative and judiciary by closely studying the situation of the country itself. If it fails, neither the international forum that the government takes part in is entitled to maintain nor would it understand problems in the region.
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China-based group was founded in 1984.