In recent months many protests and demonstrations have taken place in the country. Lawyers frequently attend such events in order to monitor police violence against protestors and demonstrators. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has documented one case which shows that a lawyer on the site appealing against the illegal arrest of demonstrators by the police faces a criminal charge for obstruction of performance of official duties.
Mr. Kwon Young-gook, a chair of the labour committee from MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, a non-governmental organisation in South Korea went in front of the Ssangyong Motors Company in Pyeongtaek-si to attend a press conference, “labour lawyer’s joint press conference in order to find a proper solution regarding the restructuring lay-offs by Ssangyong Motors” which was supposed to be held at 11am on June 26, 2009.
According to the information received, while he arrived at 10:30am and was waiting for the conference, he saw that the police and auxiliary police were arresting six labour activists without informing them of the reason for their arrest. He showed his lawyer’s certificate to the auxiliary police as well as police officials in charge and asked for the reason for their arrest based on article 12(5) of the Constitution which stipulates, “No one shall be arrested or detained without being informed of the reason therefore and of his right to assistance of counsel…” as well as the article 200 (5) of the Criminal Procedure Act which stipulates, ” Every public prosecutor or judicial police officer shall, whenever he arrests a suspect, notify the suspect of the gist of the suspected crime, the reason for arrest and the right to appoint defence counsel, and shall also give an opportunity to vindicate himself”. However, the police ignored Mr. Kwon’s request and used a police shield to push him off.
Sometime later, the police arrested the activists who had been fully under control on the road. Mr. Kwon asked for the police to allow him to interview the arrestees based on the article 12(4) of the Constitution which stipulates, “Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to prompt assistance of counsel…” and the article 34 of the Criminal Procedure Act which stipulates, “the defence counsel or a person who desires to be a defence counsel may have an interview with the defendant of the suspect who is placed under physical restraint, deliver or receive any document or things and have any doctor examine and treat the defendant or the suspect.” However, his request was again ignored and he was pushed off by the police shield.
Soon after, the police put the arrestees into the police vehicle. Mr. Kwon immediately rushed in front of the police vehicle and showed his lawyer’s certificate and asked for an interview of the arrestees. However, the police arrested Mr. Kwon as a flagrant offender of obstruction of the performance of official duties and detained him at Suwon Seobu police station at around 12pm and released him two days later.
Ssang Yong Motor Company fired around three thousands workers. The labour union tried to negotiate this matter with the company, but both parties failed to agree. Subsequently, the workers and the labour union occupied the working place and protested against the dismissal. They also demanded that the government and the company take a genuine step to negotiate the situation. Since the occupation, which has lasted for over two months, the government decided to deploy the police force where the workers are striking under the name of prevention of crimes, but in fact, it did not intervene or play a role as an impartial arbitrator (for more details, please refer to AHRC-STM-158-2009).
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SOUTH KOREA: Legal action imposed on a defender should be lifted
Details of accused: Mr. Kwon Young-Gook, a chair of labour committee from MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, non-governmental organisation
Officers involved: Mr. Yu; the company commander of auxiliary police attached to the Pyeongtaek police station
Criminal Case: No.: 2009KODAN1660: Article 136 of Criminal Act (Obstruction of Performance of Official Duties)
Place of incident: in front of Ssangyong Motors Co., Chilgoe-dong, Pyeongtaek-si, Gyeonggi-do, Korea
Date of incident: June 26, 2009
I regret to hear that a lawyer who provided a legal advice at the press conference for six labour activists who had been arrested by the auxiliary police led by Mr. Yu attached to the Pyeongtaek police station is now facing a criminal charge that has been used to oppress human rights defenders who intervened into illegal arrest and detention by the police.
According to the information that I have received, Mr. Kwon, a human rights lawyer went to attend a press conference scheduled at 11am on June 26, 2009 in front of Ssangyong Motors Company in Pyeongtaek-si where he witnessed that six labour activists had been arrested by the police without being notified the reason of their arrest and when he appealed, the police arbitrarily arrested, detained him. He was released two days later.
From the information which I have received obstruction of performance of official duties is justifiable only when their performance is legitimate but in this case, there are two major flaws in the process of performance;
a. When the police arrested the six as flagrant offenders, they shall inform the offender of the gist of fact of crime and the reason of arrest, inform the suspect of the right to counsel and provide the offender for opportunity of excuse based on the article 213 (2) and 88 of the Criminal Procedure Act which the another case 2008DO3640 at the Supreme Court also reaffirmed. In this case, the police led by Mr. Yu arrested the six labour activists by the order neither informing the reason of their arrest while they fully controlled them for considerable time nor the gist of fact of crime and ignored such requests by the arrestees.
b. When the police arrested them, Mr. Kwon, as a lawyer, asked for the interview of the arrestees from the police based on the article 34 (Interview, Communication and Medical Examination and Treatment with Defendant or Suspect)) of the Criminal Procedure Act, but the commander ignored this request and ordered the police to push him away. Under the circumstances the police continued to keep the six suspects under their control despite of repeated requests by the suspects and Mr. Kwon and physically blocked Mr. Kwon’s right as a lawyer to access to the suspects.
What I have learned from the information received is that while this illegal arrest and detention continued, Mr. Kwon held the police shield asking to interview the arrestees and learn the reason for their arrest repeatedly for a considerable time but he had never used violence against the police. However, it is saddening to hear that the fact of his holding the police shield itself was understood as an assault toward the police and therefore used as a reason for obstruction of performance of public duties.
If this case continues, it is nothing but to indicate that the authorities maliciously take legal action against the rights defenders in order to discourage and oppress their activities. In this regard, I call upon you to immediately drop the charge imposed on Mr. Kwon not only based on the circumstantial evidence provided but also the misuse of criminal offence which is obstruction of performance of public duties in which the previous case at the Supreme Court has already confirmed. Taking legal action against rights defender only invites the government’s misuse of law and order.
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:
1. Mr. Lee Myung-Bak
1 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Fax: +82 2 770 4751
Tel: +82 2 770 0018
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Mr. Lee Gui-Nam
Minister of Justice
88 Gwanmon-ro, Gwachon-si
Gyonggi Province 427-760
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Tel: +82 2 503 7023
Fax: +82 2 2110 3079 / 503 7046
3. Mr. Kim Joon-Gyu
Supreme Prosecutor’s Office
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Fax: +82 2 3480 2555
Tel: +82 2 3480 2000
4. Mr. Kang Hee-Rak
Korean National Police Agency
Uiju-ro 91(Migeun-dong 209) Seodaemun-gu
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (email@example.com)