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Korean trade union leader released after six months in prison

KOREAN trade unionist  Lee Young Joo has been released after spending six months in a Seoul prison for organising a demonstration against government legislation.

Despite being freed, the former Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) general secretary was found guilty of all charges and handed three years in prison suspended for four years, with judges fining her 500,000 KRW (£341.45) for organising a 2015 protest.

She lived under self-imposed house arrest at the KCTU headquarters from December 2015 to December 2017 in order to avoid being arrested on charges of organising a demonstration against proposed repressive labour laws in November 2015.

Ms Joo was arrested on December 27 2017 after leaving the union offices and was detained in Seoul.

Prosecutors claimed the People’s Mass Mobilisation blocked roads, with protesters refusing to move as police fired water cannon in a crackdown on public demonstrations.

The march had been called to protest against repressive Korean labour laws and sparked the mass movement which led to the impeachment of former president Park Geun Hye who is serving a 24-year prison sentence following a corruption scandal

Seoul has been criticised for its poor record on trade union and workers’ rights, with frequent arrests in response to strike action or protests calling for reforms.

The new government of President Moon Jae In has promised to respect labour rights, but the attitude of the authorities remains unchanged, according to the unions.

KCTU president Han Sang Gyun was released last month after being held in prison since December 2015 on similar charges relating to peaceful trade union activities.

World Organisation Against Torture general secretary Gerald Staberock welcomed Ms Joo’s release, insisting that she should not have been prosecuted in the first place

“Her arbitrary detention was clearly aimed at punishing her legitimate human rights work as well as her leadership of KCTU and we trust that she will not be subjected to any further reprisal,” he said.

International trade union federation IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Ozkan said: "We celebrate the liberation of our Sister Lee Young Joo from prison. We are however saddened by the fact that the court did not drop all the charges against her.

“President Moon should pay special attention to this case and do everything in his power to put workers’ interests high on the agenda in Korea.”


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