KOR 001 / 0715 / OBS 060
Detention / Judicial harassment
July 22, 2015
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in South Korea.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the detention of Mr. Lae-Goon Park, a standing steering committee member of the Coalition 4.16 on the Sewol Ferry Disaster1 (Coalition 4.16) which demands an independent investigatory commission be set up for the Sewol Ferry incident which happened on April 16, 2014.
According to the information received, on July 17, 2015, Mr. Park was detained by the Seoul Metropolitan Police in relation to his participation in a series of protests2 to commemorate Sewol victims and for calling for an independent and transparent investigation into the Sewol Ferry incident. He is currently detained under a pre-indictment warrant, and is awaiting a possible indictment by the prosecutor’s office, which must be filed within 10 to 20 days following the beginning of his detention.
Police agents have claimed that Mr. Park incited sedition during protests and colluded with other human rights defenders to take violent action against the police. Such acts are punishable under the following Articles of the Criminal Code: Article 185 (“general obstruction of traffic”), Article 144 (“special obstruction of public duty”) and Article 141 (“invalidity of public documents” and “destruction of public goods”). According to Coalition 4.16, no conclusive evidence has been provided for Mr. Park’s involvement in inciting violent acts during the protests. To the contrary, Coalition 4.16 has stated that Mr. Park tried to calm participants during the protests and asked them not to use any violence against authorities.
In addition, since April 2015, six protesters, including Mr. Hyung-Jae Ham3 and Mr. Hyun-Sik Kim4, two staff members from the People’s Committee for the Sewol Tragedy, have been detained and face criminal charges for participating in the Sewol ferry tragedy protests5.
The Observatory calls upon the South Korean authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Lae-Goon Park, Hyung-Jae Ham, Hyun-Sik Kim and all peaceful protesters, and to drop all charges against them as these charges are related solely to their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.
After the Sewol ferry disaster on April 16, 2014, Sewol families and civil society organizations have continuously urged the Government to set up an independent investigatory commission to reveal the truth regarding the Sewol ferry disaster. The People’s Committee for the Sewol Ferry Tragedy, together with Sewol families, collected more than 3.5 million individual signatures calling for the enactment of a law to establish an independent and transparent investigation commission on the Sewol ferry disaster and submitted these signatures to the National Assembly on July 15, 2014.
After the submission, some Sewol families, individual citizens, and human rights defenders including Mr. Laegoon Park, went on hunger strike, demonstrated overnight in the street, and shaved their heads in protest calling for enactment of a Special Law on Sewol. The Special Law for Seeking Truth of the Sewol Ferry Disaster and Establishing Safer Society (Sewol Special Law) was finally enacted on November 7, 2014.
However, on March 27, 2015, the government announced an enforcement ordinance for the Sewol Special Law which human rights defenders say runs counter to the provisions of the law and risks denying the rights of victims and families to truth and adequate compensation. The members of Coalition 4.16 therefore organised a series of protests to call for the abolishment of the enforcement decree and to commemorate Sewol victims and call for a truly independent and transparent investigation into the tragedy. During the protests in April and May 2015, physical clashes between protesters and police occurred and violence broke out.
The Observatory urges the authorities of South Korea to:
i. Immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Lae-Goon Park, Hyung-Jae Ham, Hyun-Sik Kim and all peaceful protesters and put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them as well as against all human rights defenders in South-Korea;
ii. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Lae-Goon Park, Hyung-Jae Ham, Hyun-Sik Kim and all peaceful protesters as well as all human rights defenders in South-Korea;
iii. Conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular:
• its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” ;
• its Article 5 (a) which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others to meet or assemble peacefully” ; and
• its Article 12 which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”
iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by South Korea.
• Mrs. Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, 1 Cheongwadae-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-820, Republic of Korea, Fax: +82 2770 1690
• Mr. Hwang Kyo-ahn, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, 77-6 Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea. Fax: + 82-2-720-35 71
• Mr. Kim Hyun-Woong, Minister of Justice, Government Complex-Gwacheon, Jungang-dong1, Gwacheon-si, Kyunggi-do, Tel:
• Mr. Yun Byung-se, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 60, Sajik-ro 8-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea (110-787) Tel:
• National Human Rights Commission of Korea, Gumsegi Building, No. 16, Ulgiro 1-ga, Jung-gu, 100-842 Seoul, Republic of Korea. Tel:
• H.E. Seokyoung Choi, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations, 1 Avenue de l’Ariana, Case Postale 42, 1211 Genève 20, Switzerland, Tel:
• H.E. Chong-ghee Ahn, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Kingdom of Belgium, Chaussée de la Hulpe 173-175, 1170 Brussels(Watermael-Boitsfort), Belgium, Tel :
Please also write to diplomatic representations of South Korea in your respective countries.
Paris-Geneva, July 22, 2015
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 /
• Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 /
1 After the Sewol ferry tragedy, South Korean civil society organizations established a network of more than 800 NGOs called the “People’s Committee for the Sewol Ferry Tragedy.” This Committee supported the Sewol victims’ families in their pursuit of the truth regarding the Sewol ferry tragedy. After the Special Law for Seeking Truth of the Sewol Ferry Disaster and Establishing Safer Society was enacted at the end of 2014, the Committee was transformed into the “Coalition 4.16 on the Sewol Ferry Disaster (Coalition 4.16)”, which also includes the membership of the Sewol families and individual supporters. The Coalition 4.16 has three standing steering committee members, one from each of these groups, and Mr. Park is one of them. Since then, most activities, including protests, have been organized under the Coalition 4.16’s name to show that families, civil society organisations, and individual supporters are jointly working towards truth regarding the Sewol ferry incident.
2 The protests for which Mr. Park is being detained were held on July 24, 2014, to commemorate the 100 days since the Sewol ferry tragedy; on April 11, 2015, to call for the raising of the Sewol ferry; on April 16, 2015, to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Sewol ferry tragedy; on April 18, 2015, to call for truth regarding the Sewol ferry tragedy; and on May 1 and 2, 2015, as an overnight protest to call for truth-seeking in the Sewol ferry tragedy.
3 On July 14, 2015 the prosecutor’s office indicted Mr. Hyung-Jae Ham under Article 185 of the Criminal Code, for which he faces three years in prison.
4 On 14 July 2015, the prosecutor’s office indicted Mr. Hyun-Sik Kim under Article 185 of the Criminal Code, for which he faces two years in prison.
5 The four other protesters are Mr. Chang-Gun Kim, Mr. Jang-Hee Kwon, Mr. Kwang-Chul Kang and Mr. Gi-Ho Lee. The four deny having used violence during the protests.