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SOUTH KOREA: Arrest of migrant union leaders due to their activities; waiting for forcible deportation

December 5, 2007



Urgent Appeal

6 December 2007
UA-337-2007: SOUTH KOREA: Arrest of migrant union leaders due to their activities; waiting for forcible deportation

SOUTH KOREA: Migrant workers; human rights defenders; deportation

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that three leaders of the Migrants' Trade Union (MTU) were arrested and detained on 27 November 2007, by immigration officials outside their homes and workplace in South Korea. Although they have been arrested on the basis of their undocumented status, it is alleged that the arrests were made in order to curb their activities. The members of MTU, including three leaders, have organised to continue protesting against a crackdown in front of the Immigration Office. They continue to do so, despite being at risk of being arrested as part of the Ministry of Justice arrests of undocumented migrant workers in August 2007.


Mr. Kajiman Khapung (42), Nepali, President of the MTU was leaving his home in Sindang with a friend at 9:30am on 27 November 2007. More than 10 immigration officers appeared around the corner. Despite trying to avoid them, Khapung was arrested. One officer showed his identification card marked as a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) while another presented documents with Khapung's personal information on it. Another officer recorded the arrest with a video camera. Khapung tried to make phone calls, however his cell phone was confiscated. Khapung was taken by car to the Seoul Immigration office and then to the Cheongju Foreigner's Protection Center, which has in practice been used as detention center for all foreigners arrested, and it is where he has since been incarcerated.

On the same day, Mr. Raj Kumar Gurung, (38), Nepali, Vice-President of the MTU, was at his workplace in Sindang when four Immigration officers arrived at 9:15am. They demanded Gurung show them his identification card after which they identified themselves and tried to handcuff him. Mr. Gurung resisted these attempts to arrest him but was eventually arrested. When he tried to inform his friends of his arrest using his cell phone, his phone was also confiscated. He was taken to the Seoul immigration office and then to Cheongju Foreigner's Protection Center.

Mr. Abdul Basher M Moniruzzaman, (41), Bangladeshi, General-Secretary of the MTU was outside his home in Unhyeon when ten Immigration officers approached him from behind. Suddenly, a total of fifteen officers surrounded him. One recorded his arrest, another showed him his identification card marked as a MoJ officer and another presented files which contained his information. He later informed them that one of the officers had been watching his house the night before. When he was about to be arrested, he tried to inform others using his cell phone however, his phone was also confiscated. When he was taken to the Seoul Immigration Office, he asked to have his phone returned but was denied. Then, he was taken to the Cheongju Foreigner's Protection Center.

On the day of their arrest, some organisations lodged a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). On the following day, November 28, investigating officers from NHRCK visited the Cheongju Foreigner's Protection Center and interviewed them. On the condition that the Immigration office had already issued orders for their protection (effectively an 'order for detention' and forcible deportation) legal counsel for the arrestees submitted an application for appeal against their protection and deportation to the MoJ.

Now all arrestees [picture 1] are currently detained in the Cheongju Foreigner's Protection Center and may be deported soon if the court dismisses the application for appeal.


The MTU is an organization that advocates the rights of South Korea's migrant workers irrespective of their status. When the MTU tried to register, in order to form a Trade Union with the Seoul District Labour Office, its application was denied on the bases that the members of MTU were undocumented. The MTU filed a case in 2006 and the Seoul High Court made its decision to permit the MTU to form on 1 February 2007 (Case No. Seoul High Court decision 2006 NU 6774). The appeal case is currently pending at the Supreme Court.

The AHRC has earlier issued an urgent appeal about the arrest and possible of deportation of the former president of MTU. (See further: UA-086-2005)


In South Korea, the number of migrant workers is estimated to be over 420,000. It is estimated that some 224,000 out of the total migrant work force are undocumented workers. The MoJ publicised a policy that the Immigration office, which is under the MoJ, started arresting undocumented migrant workers and detaining them in a Protection Center before forcible deportation. It started its operation in August 2007. Several cases of human rights violation by immigration officials have been reported during its operation.

On August 20, immigration officers questioned 5 foreigners near Seong-su subway station. They did not show their identification when asked. Even though the five arrestees showed their document indicating legal status, the officers forcibly arrested them. During this process, the arrestees were assaulted. Bystanders called the police and all were brought to near the Seong-su police station. A lawyer went to the police station and asked to meet them but was denied access. Later, one of arrestees was charged with obstructing official duties.

Mr. Ayhya, an Indonesian migrant worker, went to Gyeongin Office of Ministry of Labour to report that the owner of his company did not pay his retirement allowance upon his leaving the company on August 20. He came to South Korea as an industrial trainee in 2000 and worked with the company for 7 years. However he was arrested for overstaying and detained. Likewise, migrant workers facing delays in payment or health problems in the workplace have, in practice, nowhere to report their existing problem. 

Mr. Waleed, a Pakistan migrant worker, was working at a company in South Korea. Some immigration officers came into the company without a warrant on August 23 and Waleed was brought to their car. They forced him to sign a letter without informing him as to the contents of the letter. Waleed asked them to bring him to a hospital due to the pain in his ankle. However, they allegedly assaulted him and only later that evening took him to a hospital. The doctor examining his left ankle found it was broken and asked to admit him to surgery. However the police refused to admit him to hospital and took him to Mokdong Immigration office and later released him.

On August 28, Ms. Lee, a Chinese national, was arrested in a restaurant on the charge of an undocumented stay by the police from Seongnam Sujeong police station. She and her seven-month-old daughter were taken into custody and put in a so-called 'protection room' in Seoul immigration. She asked to go to a hospital because her daughter had a high fever due to enteritis but immigration officers refused and she was denied any medical treatment unless she could first pay a deposit for ten million Korean won (USD 10,780). As this case was well known and a protest was held, Seoul immigration firstly denied that they were detaining the mother and daughter but later her family verified the fact. Then Seoul immigration received three million Korean won (USD 3,230) from her husband as a deposit and they released the mother and daughter.

As these have been reported, members of the MTU including the arrestees have started holding protests against the immigration officials' abuses in front of the Seoul Immigration Office every Tuesday for the last three months.

At the same time, the MoJ made an advance notice of legislation to revise Immigration Act on 8 November 2007. Some of the major controversial articles of the revised act are reported below:

According to the article 46-2 of the revised act, immigration officials may enter an office, business premises, workplace or similar places if they have substantial reason to believe a foreigner violating under article 46-1 of the same act is on the premises. They can investigate foreigners, employers or relevant persons, and have the right access to necessary materials such as documents for employment or ask for their submission. This article empowers the immigration officials to enter any premises without a court warrant which is contrary to the stipulation in article 12 and 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea.

In addition, according to article 63, the head of an office, branch office or that of foreigners' protection center may "protect" a foreigner who has received an order of forcible deportation in a foreigners' protection facility, center or a place where the Minister of Justice designates until they are able to deport them if they are unable to immediately deport them, for instance in cases where persons do not have a passport or a guaranteed means of transportation. The protection facilities are allowed to hold foreigners for up to 6 months and they must apply to the Minister of Justice to have this period extended before the 6 months expires. The Minister of Justice can allow for the extension of their term for another 6 months. This renewal process is in theory inexhaustible and foreigners can be held for an unlimited period of time as long as the Minister of Justice renews the order for their "protection". In practice this can lead to gross violations of the right to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention.

The arrestees with other members from MTU had been holding several protests and candle light vigils against the operation by immigration officials and the MoJ's bill to revise the immigration act which may worsen the situation for workers and especially migrant workers.

It is reported that their arrests are directly linked to their activities in the MTU campaigning for the protection and promotion for human rights of migrant workers.

The AHRC is of the view that the government of the Republic of Korea is obliged to make sure that "All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status" which is article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the government is a state party.
Please write to the authorities below requesting for the release of Mr. Moniruzzaman, Mr.Gurung and Mr. Khapung until they have been able to petition and appeal against orders for their deportation.

Please also send your appeal letter to Ms. Wol-san Liem, international solidarity coordinator of MTU by both migrant@jinbo.net and wolsan@earthlink.net for their follow-up actions.

The AHRC is writing separate letter to UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and Special Representative on human rights defenders calling for their intervention in this case.

To support this appeal, please click here:


Suggested letter:

Dear __________,

SOUTH KOREA: Arrest of migrant union leaders due to their activities; waiting for forcible deportation

Details of victims:
1. Mr. Kajiman Khapung (42), single, President of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants' Trade Union (MTU), arrested at his house in Sindang, Seoul
2. Mr. Raj Kumar Gurung, (38), single, Vice-president of the MTU, arrested in his workplace in Sindang, Seoul
3. Mr. Abdul Basher Moniruzzam, (41), single, General-Secretary of the MTU, arrested at his house in Unhyeon, Seoul
Date of arrest: 27 November 2007
Currently detained at: Cheongju Foreigner's Protection (Detention) Center

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the arrest of the leaders of the MTU. According to the information I have received on 27 November 2007 Mr. Khapung, Mr. Gurung and Mr. Moniruzzam were arrested by groups of immigration officers.

I have been informed that they and their organisation have played a prominent role as activists for the rights of migrant workers and have been openly critical of the government's policy towards undocumented workers. I express my concern over the belief that their arrests were directly linked to their struggle to improve the conditions of migrant workers in South Korea. I also ask you to take steps to stop the crackdown against migrant workers. 

South Korean labour rights should be made in accordance with international standards and that the proposed immigration bill would take labour laws further away from these standards. I take this opportunity to draw your attention to the article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which the Republic of Korea is a state party.

It clearly stipulates that "All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status". Especially I would like to draw your special attention to those phrases that have been highlighted.

I have also been informed that their arrests were directly linked to their prior activities helping migrant's workers and holding protests against the government' policy of arresting undocumented migrant workers and the bill to revise the Immigration act and that some of articles in it are controversial as they are contrary to the Constitution of Republic of Korea and International human rights instruments.

Therefore, I urge you to immediately release them in order to make sure that all persons are entitled to redress under the law without any discrimination and without reference to their migration status. I also urge you to reconsider their deportation due to their prior activities against the government policy and show genuine efforts to negotiate a general consensus. I further urge you to study every case where there has been a human rights violation against the rights of migrant workers especially those who are undocumented and find a way to deal with them rather than using force which has facilitated these serious human rights violations occurring.

I trust that you will take immediate action into this matter.

Yours sincerely,



1. Mr. Roh Moo-Hyun
President of the Republic
1 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu
Seoul 110-820
Tel: +82 2 770 0018
Fax: +82 2 770 0347 / 770 0001 / 770 2579
E-mail: president@cwd.go.kr or president@president.go.kr

2. Mr. Chung, Soung-Jin
Minister of Justice
88 Gwanmon-ro, Gwachon-si
Gyonggi Province 427-760
Fax: +82 2 2110 3079 / 503 7046
E-mail: webmaster@moj.go.kr

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

4. Ms. Sachiko Yamamoto
Regional Director
United Nations Building, 11th Floor
Rajdamnern Nok Avenue
P.O. Box 2-349
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Tel: +66 2288 2295 or 2288 1234
Fax: +66 2288 3056 (direct) or 2288 3062
E-mail: bangkok@ilo.org

Thank you.

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

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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.