South Korea: Supreme Court ruling against jailed union leader a further setback for peaceful protests

South Korea must immediately release trade union leader Han Sang-gyun, Amnesty International said, after the country’s Supreme Court rejected his final appeal against a three-year jail sentence.

Han Sang-gyun has been held responsible for others’ sporadic clashes with police and for his role in organizing a series of largely peaceful anti-government protests in 2014 and 2015. He has already been detained for one and a half years.

“Han Sang-gyun should not be behind bars for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Today’s ruling is a further setback for justice and human rights in South Korea,” said Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia Regional Director at Amnesty International.

“President Moon Jae-in should demonstrate that the new government fully supports the right to peaceful assembly and stop these unjust prosecutions.”

Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling comes shortly after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion that Han Sang-gyun was charged in violation of his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and his detention is arbitrary. Amnesty International joins the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in calling for Han Sang-gyun’s immediate release.

Han Sang-gyun’s case highlighted the shrinking space for freedom of peaceful assembly under the previous administration. He was arrested on 10 December 2015 and sentenced to five years imprisonment at his initial trial in July 2016 on several charges including under the country’s Assembly and Demonstrations Act. His sentence was reduced to three years imprisonment on appeal on 13 December 2016.