Hope within prison walls: A letter from imprisoned Korean labour leader Han Sang-gyun

A leading labour union figure in South Korea, Han Sang-gyun, president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions is currently serving a three-year prison term after a South Korean court last year convicted him for his role as an organizer of a number of largely peaceful protests.

His conviction and sentencing, reduced from five to three years on appeal after hearings to which Amnesty International sent observers, underlined the authorities’ intolerance of the right to peaceful assembly.

While awaiting the outcome of his final appeal, currently being considered by the country’s Supreme Court, Han wrote from his prison cell to thank Amnesty International for its work on his case.

The international solidarity of the United Nations, International Labour Organization, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Amnesty International, labour unions, human rights activists and others has given me strength during my detention.

There are also those who have put pressure on the Korean government by going to the South Korean embassies in their countries. I have seen the amazement on the faces of the judges when they saw the number of people who turned up to support me at my court trials.

Amnesty International is my eternal friend. I thank you for your warm solidarity, support and encouragement. All the dedicated and hardworking friends working for everyone’s human rights and for an equal world are the real heroes of our age.
Han Sang-gyun, jailed president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions

 

Despite the on-going defeats I have not fallen to my knees because I know it is only natural that truth will win over lies and justice will trump injustice.

I would need hundreds of pages to write about the problems [faced by Korean workers] we need to solve. For 20 years after the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis there have been repeated retrogressive revisions to labour law. This has completely tipped the balance between workers and employers in favour of employers.

South Korea is becoming one of the most polarized countries in the world in terms of inequality, with irregular workers at 54% of the total workforce and increasing. Despite suffering from job insecurity, five million workers earn less than 2 million Korean won [approximately 2,000 US dollars] a month. It is common sense that workers form unions, collectively bargain and use the sole weapon of the strike to win their rights against unfair treatment by companies. 

It’s a reality that if you form a union in South Korea or exercise your right to strike, not only can it lead to you being fined, imprisoned, or having your family torn apart, you may even put your life at risk.

Freedom of assembly and association are the most fundamental of our basic rights. I ask you to continue to take interest in my case and support me in solidarity before the final verdict on my appeal is handed down by the Supreme Court so that they will make the right decision. When I am released, I will visit farmer Baek Nam-gi’s grave and hope to take with me a public apology from the government. I will make an offering of rice wine and report to him that his struggle has awakened a better world.

Amnesty International is my eternal friend. I thank you for your warm solidarity, support and encouragement. All the dedicated and hardworking friends working for everyone’s human rights and for an equal world are the real heroes of our age.

Thank you. In love and solidarity.

Han Sang-gyun, Chuncheon Prison