PSPD in English Civil-Political 2008-07-10   904

Three human rights defenders are arrested as instigators of illegal protest

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION 
URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME


10 July 2008
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SOUTH KOREA: Three human rights defenders are arrested as instigators of illegal protest


ISSUES: Human rights defenders; freedom of opinion and expression; misuse of power
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Dear friends,


The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has obtained information that two activists appealing the illegal arrest of others, and one activist monitoring police violence during recent protests, were arrested on 25 June and 30 June 2008 respectively and later charged with instigating an illegal protest in South Korea.


CASE DETAILS:


On 25 June 2008, Mr. Ahn Jin-geol and Ms. Yoon Hee-sook attended as staff the People’s Conference Against Mad Cow Disease and were in charge of the candle light rallies from 11 April to 3 May 2008. The conference provided the opportunity for anyone to express their political opinion regarding the agreement between the Korean government and United States of America. It was also arranged for professional singers and performers from colleges and associations to perform at the festival.


After the results of the second meeting were announced on June 25 about 1,000 people, including Ahn Jin-geol and Yoon Hee-sook, held a press conference in front of Kyong-bok Palace. At 3pm on the same day, police started arbitrarily arresting people on the spot, including Ms. Yoon and Ms. Lee Jeong-hee a Member of Parliament and a 12-year-old girl. Seeing the arrest of the minor, Mr. Ahn appealed this arrest. While appealing about seven riot police suddenly attacked him from behind and held him down on his neck (See photo 1) and limbs, causing a bruise needing two weeks medical treatment and recovery. His actions against the arrest of the minor caused him to be charged for the obstruction of execution of public duties. When the minor was released following several appeals from people nearby, around 30 people were arrested and taken to Jong-ro police Station.


At 5.50pm on 30 June 2008, about 40 police officers came to the office of Korea Solidarity of Progressive Movement with a seizure and search warrant and arrested Mr. Hwang Soon-won, the director of democracy and human rights at the organisation. The reasons given for his arrest were: planning an illegal assembly and demonstrations and for ensuring its execution. After his arrest he was interrogated at the Jong-ro Police Station.


According to the information received, he worked as a volunteer at the Committee and was in charge of monitoring arrestees and recording injuries obtained in the process of marching on the street, as well as victims of police crackdowns against protesters. He also played a role in contacting lawyers to assist the arrestees and reporting any injuries to medical staff on the spot so that the injured could receive appropriate medical treatment.


Arrest warrants have been issued to six persons: Mr. Han Yong-Jin and Mr. Park Won-Seok, co-heads of current affairs at the Committee; Mr. Kim Gwang-Il, team leader of marching at the Committee; Mr. Kim Dong-gyu, team leader of organising at the Committee; Mr. Paik Eun-Jong, vice president of the internet caf?’Anti Lee Myung-Bak’; and Mr. Baik Seong-Gyun, president of the internet community ‘michincow’.  All of them are currently staying in Jogyesa (Jogye temple) in Seoul, the Korean Buddhist Jogye order, and police are waiting outside the temple to arrest them.


BACKGROUND INFORMATION:


When the agreement by the Korean government to re-begin importing beef, or beef products, from the United States of America without public knowledge became known to the public on April 18, a committee called the ‘People’s Conference Against Mad Cow Disease’ was formed, consisting of about 1,800 civic groups from the country. Some members from the group volunteered to work for the Committee and organised candle light vigils for participants, as people began holding candles in their hands. The main role of the arrestees mentioned above is to monitor human rights violations when riot police start forcibly dispersing of marchers and to communicate with lawyers’ groups, medical groups and the press based on the situation.


School students first began holding candles after the agreement to show their fear at having beef that may contain mad cow disease due to the lack of a domestic quarantine system. These fears became widespread over the internet. Police announced that they would investigate those students who were spreading these ‘rumours’. After it was found that the Korean government could not guarantee safety from the disease, people from all professional sectors have held candle light vigils. As the protest has continued, police are not allowing people to hold demonstrations and are making arbitrary arrests .

In order to prevent people from gathering and marching towards the Presidential residence, police have blocked all routes to the place where candle light vigils were scheduled to be held and used police buses to completely block all ways to the residence. Whenever some individuals threw plastic water bottles, other participants made them calm down by shouting ‘non-violence!’. On June 2, in the process of forcible dispersal of protesters, police beat protesters with batons and police shields, which caused several injuries.

From the beginning of the protest, the government has alleged that they were masterminded by people behind the students holding candle lights. However, due to the continuation of the people’s protest, the government sent representatives to the United States for additional meetings but the results of these meetings have not satisfied the demands of the people. In addition, the outcomes of these meetings do not guarantee safety from the disease.

Although frustrated and disappointed, people did not turn off the lights and continued the march. After a public announcement by the Minister of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, without a public hearing on June 25, the police arbitrarily arrested people. This included those people standing or watching the protest from the pavement, stating that people gathered on the pavement violated the Act on Assembly and Demonstration. On June 28 and 29, at least 300 protesters were injured by the police’s unnecessary force while forcibly dispersing the protesters.


Police have reported that 958 persons have been taken to the police station, that 9 persons were investigated with detention, 694 of them released within 48 hours, 56 of them sent to court for summary justice, 25 of them freed after writing a statement regretting their behaviour and expressing that they would not take part in the candle light vigil again in the future, and 184 of them are continuing to be investigated by police. Apart from the police report, at least five persons who narrated what they had seen during the forcible dispersal of demonstrators, or expressed fear concerning mad cow disease on the internet were also arrested and detained.


SUGGESTED ACTION:


Please write letters to the authorities listed below urging them to release these human rights defenders without condition and to withdraw the cases against them.


Please be informed that the AHRC has written separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and on the situation of human rights defenders calling for intervention in this matter.


SAMPLE LETTER:


Dear ___________,


SOUTH KOREA: Three human rights defenders are arrested as instigators of illegal protest


Details of victims:
1. Mr. Ahn Jin-Geol, lecturer of Seongkonghoe University, a staff member of People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy; volunteer of Committee named ‘People’s Conference Against Mad Cow Disease’; accused of violating Act on assembly and demonstration, Road Traffic Act and obstruction of execution of public duties; arrested on June 25 2008
2. Ms. Yoon Hee-sook, vice chairperson of Korean Association of youth organisation; volunteer of Committee named ‘People’s Conference Against Mad Cow Disease’; accused of violating Act on assembly and demonstration and Road Traffic Act; arrested on 25 June 2008
3. Mr. Hwang Soon-won, a director of democracy and human rights from Korean Solidarity of Progressive Movement, volunteer of Committee named ‘People’s Conference Against Mad Cow Disease’; accused of violating the Act on assembly and demonstration and Road Traffic Act; arrested on 30 June 2008


I am writing to express my deep concern regarding the arrest of three human rights defenders during recent protests which have continued for almost over 2 months.


According to the information that I have received, while Mr. Ahn Jin-Geol was appealing the illegal arrest of a minor in front of Kyongbok Palace, he was arbitrarily arrested by the police and beaten at that time of arrest. Ms. Yoon Hee-sook was also arbitrarily arrested with Mr. Ahn Jin-Geol on June 25. Both arrestees had been volunteering as staff on a committee called ‘People’s Conference Against Mad Cow Disease’ and facilitating peaceful candle light vigils for over a month.


From the information I have learnt that Mr. Hwang Soon-won, who later joined the committee, work involved contacting lawyers when arrests took place and communicating to medical staff when injuries occurred, and also monitoring violence in the process of forcible disperse by riot police. When a group of police raided his organisation with a seizure and search warrant on June 30, they arrested him and took him to Jong-ro Police Station. I am aware that the above arrested persons are charged with violating the Act on Assembly and Demonstration and Road Traffic Act and they are currently under investigation with detention.


All activities of the Committee and information regarding the candle light vigil are accessible on its website, so that there is no worry about obstruction of evidence, and the arrestees have already submitted their statements to postpone their presence at the prosecutor’s office for investigation due to the daily candle light vigil so there is no worry of running away. Furthermore, the arrestees have cooperated with police officers attached to Jong-ro and Namdeamun Police Station concerning all matters regarding the candle light vigil and informed them of all the arrangements of the vigil.


There is no reason for investigating them with detention. Accordingly, I urge you to reconsider detaining them and release them without condition. The fact that their arrest was simply based on the violation of the Act on Assembly and Demonstration shows that the prosecutor interprets the Act in a narrow manor. He does not understand the purpose of the Act to protect freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of assembly on grounds of article 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Korean government is a state party. I further urge you to investigate them without detention, if there is allegation against them, as there is no reason for the prosecutor to keep them in detention this may constitute a misuse of power.


I would like to draw your attention in general to the fact that if people oppose government policies and express their opinions, either through the internet or in public, are simply arrested on the grounds of violating not the Koran Constitution or International human rights instruments but the Acts, this shows the gap existing not only between them but the lack of government will to implement or promote human rights. In addition, domestic law may be shown to the international community as a mockery of human rights. In this regard, I finally urge you to stop attempts to arrest a further eight human rights defenders who have been booked on charges of violating the Acts.


Yours sincerely,


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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:


1. Mr. Kim Kyung-Han
Minister
Ministry of Justice
88 Gwanmon-ro, Gwachon-si
Gyonggi Province 427-760
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Fax: 82 2 2110 3079 / 503 7046
E-mail:
webmaster@moj.go.kr


2. Mr. Jeong Sang-Myong
Prosecutor General
Supreme Prosecutor’s Office
1730-1, Seocho3-dong
Seocho-gu, Seoul
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Fax: 82 3480 2555
Tel: 82 2 3480 2000
3. Mr. Lee Myeng-Bak
President
1 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu
Seoul 110-820
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Fax: 82 2 770 0347 / 770 0001 / 770 2579
Tel: 82 2 770 0018
E-mail:
foreign@president.go.kr or president@cwd.go.kr or president@president.go.kr


4. Mr. Ahn Kyong-Whan
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission of Korea
16 Euljiro 1-ga
Jung-gu
Seoul 100-842
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Fax: 82 2 2125 9812 / 2125 9666
Tel: 82 2 2125 9700
E-mail:
nhrc@humanrights.go.kr


Thank you.


Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (
ua@ahrchk.org)

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