Demand fair trial for human rights activist Park Rae-gun

Posted: December 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

Park Rae-gun

Park Rae-gun, a human rights activist, is facing ten years in prison for campaigning on behalf of people who had been forcibly evicted from their homes.

In January 2009 police attempted to forcibly evict protestors from a building earmarked for demolition in Seoul. During the stand off a fire started which killed five protestors and a police officer. Park Rae-gun together with fellow activists organised protests to demand reparations for the families of the dead protestors. As a result he was arrested and charged with ‘organising an illegal assembly after sunset’ and ‘blocking traffic’. His trial is ongoing.

Background

On 19 January 2009 around 30 people facing forcible eviction due to a redevelopment project joined housing rights activists to organise a sit-in protest. They constructed a watchtower on the roof of one of the buildings due to be demolished and barricaded themselves in.  They had with them paint thinners and other flammable materials, to deter any forcible eviction by police. At 5.30am the next day, police commandos were sent to break up the protest and arrest the protesters. Police fired water cannon, and then used a crane to hoist a shipping container carrying police commandos above the roof of the building so they could jump out and raid the watchtower. Shortly after the police officers landed on the roof to arrest the protesters and started tearing down the watchtower, a fire broke out. Police continued tearing down the watchtower, and a second fire soon started. The fire killed five protesters and one police officer.

Around 100 Prosecutor’s Office staff members were assigned to investigate the Yongsan Fire Incident. The investigation found that the use of force by police was proportional and necessary and that the fire had started after protesters threw Molotov cocktails, effectively cleared the police of all responsibility.

Park Rae-gun was arrested after organising a demonstration to demand reparation for the dead protestors’ families. Article 5 of the ‘Assembly and Demonstration Act’ in South Korea stipulates that people cannot “host a demonstration or an assembly if it is clear that it would bring violence, threat, destruction, incendiary fire so that it disturbs the public security.” Police have used this provision to prevent people from exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly.

In recent years the South Korean authorities have made a concerted effort to clamp down on dissenting voices, including those of NGO activists, journalists, bloggers and protesters. During demonstrations in 2008, at least 1,258 civilians were prosecuted for illegal protest, mostly under article 10 of the Assembly and Demonstration Act (BlockingTraffic). A total of 457 people, most of them trade unionists, were arrested on 16 May 2009, while holding a peaceful demonstration to commemorate the anniversary of the 1980 pro-democracy uprising in the south-eastern city of Gwangju. Of those arrested 437 were released, though many of them were first charged.

Send an appeal to the South Korean authorities, calling on them to give Park Rae-gun a free and fair trial.

Please address your letters to:

Central Government Complex
55 Sejong-no
Jongno-gu
Seoul 110-760
Republic of Korea
Fax: 0082 22100 2110

 

~ SAMPLE LETTER ~

Dear Prime Minister Kim Hwang-shik

I am writing to you concerning the case of human rights activist Park Rae-gun, currently on trial for organising protests on behalf of people who lost family members in the Yongsan fire incident in central Seoul in 2009.
Park Rae-gun was arrested on 11 January 2010, and charged with “organising an illegal assembly after sunset” and “blocking traffic”.  His trial began on 10 February at the Seoul Central District Court.

I am deeply concerned that he could face 10 years in prison if convicted and urge you to ensure that he is granted a fair trial in accordance with international law.

I am also writing to you to urge you to take effective action to ensure that human rights defenders like Park Rae-gun are able to carry out their peaceful human rights activities without fear of arbitrary detention, harassment and intimidation in line with international law. I would urge you to amend the Assembly and Demonstration Act which has been used to criminalise the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and the rights to peaceful assembly and demonstration.

Thank you for addressing this urgent matter, I look forward to receiving your response.

Sincerely yours,

[Your name]

 

Watch this documentary on the Yongsan Tragedy

From Indymedia Korea’s Youtube channel.

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