A South Korean television journalist and trade unionist has been held by police since Sunday when he was arrested on the eve of a strike over wage disputes and government interference with the media. Roh Jong-myeon and three other colleagues were arrested for “interfering with business”.
Amnesty International has called on the South Korean government to release Roh Jong-myeon immediately.
South Korean police arrested Roh Jong-myeon, head of the workers’ union at the cable news channel YTN, along with his colleagues and fellow trade union activists, Hyun Duck-soo, Cho Seung-ho and Lim Jang-hyuk, in their homes.
The Seoul Central District Court issued an arrest warrant to detain Mr Roh beyond 48 hours on charges of “interfering with business”. His colleagues have been released due to lack of evidence.
Police said that the four were arrested because they had not presented themselves for a summons to Namdaemun police station at the designated times – a claim the journalists refute.
“Mr Roh and his colleagues appear to have been arrested solely for their union activities – an ominous expansion of what appears to be an increasingly concerted effort by the government to control South Korea’s media,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme Deputy Director.
Several union members staged a walk-out on Monday in support of their detained colleagues. YTN journalists and union members have been protesting curbs on press freedom since last year, calling for guarantees of editorial independence in light of the appointment of Ku Bon-hong as YTN president. Ku previously worked as an aide to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Ku Bon-hong sued 12 trade union journalists and fired six journalists for “interfering with business” after protests against his appointment as head of YTN.
“It’s been a long time since the South Korean media has faced this type of unwarranted government interference and harassment,” said Roseann Rife. “These arrests violate the right to freedom of assembly and the freedom of the press and constitute a very worrying development for the South Korean media.”
An Amnesty International researcher met with Roh Jong-myeon and his colleagues in November 2008 to review claims of interference in editorial independence.
In 2008, the chief executives and presidents of the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), Korean Broadcasting Advertising Corporation, Arirang TV and Sky Life were also replaced by supporters of the Lee government.