Repression and Trial
of South Korean Revolutionary Militants, 2008-2011

On February 24, 2011, the South Korean judicial system sentenced members of the Socialist Workers Alliance of Korea to prison terms and fines. The SWLK members were convicted under South Korea’s National Security Law. Internationalist Perspective was among those organizations which sent letters protesting the outrageous actions of the South Korean state. The following is a short report by Loren Goldner on the case.

(For more on the politics of the SWLK see the report on a conference organized by the SWLK in which IP participated and conference documents)

On Dec. 3 of last year, the prosecutor in the Seoul Central District Court demanded prison terms of 5-7 years for Oh sei-chull and seven other members (Yang Hyo-sik, Yang Joon-seok, Choi Young-ik, Park Joon-seon, Jeong Won-hyun, Oh Min-gyu, and Nam-goong Won) of the Socialist Workers’ Alliance of Korea (SWLK), a revolutionary socialist group. These activists in the Korean working-class movement were indicted under South Korea’s notorious National Security Law (passed in 1948 and theoretically still stipulating the death penalty for “pro-North” activities; in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the death penalty was anything but theoretical.). The militants of the SWLK, who as internationalists advocate working-class revolution in both Koreas, were accused of no specific crime except being socialists, but in reality the indictment resulted from their intervention in several strikes and movements going back to 2007. This is the first instance of such harsh repression under the National Security Law in many years. It occurs in the larger context of the hard-right turn (such as the smashing of the Ssangyong Motor Co. strike of 2009) of South Korean President Lee Myong Bak’s government since he took office in early 2008. (In fact, leaflets of the SWLK distributed during the Ssangyong strike were key evidence in the trial.)

Prosecutors have attempted to indict members of the SWLK several times since 2008, and prior to December, the prosecutors’ case was thrown out of court each time. An international campaign was organized in the weeks prior to the sentencing on February 24th, which resulted in some 250 e-mails to the judge from all over the world, a small demonstration in January in front of the South Korean consulate in New York, and a few thousand dollars for the group’s legal defense. A report on the New York demo did wind up on the front page of a major Korean daily, and the SWLK members think that the international publicity may have had an impact on the ultimate sentencing.

The judge’s sentence was ultimately as follows;

1) Oh Se-cheol, Yang Hyo-sik, Yang Joon-seok and Choi Young-ik were given 1 1/2 years in prison, but with a suspension of imprisonment for three years for violation of National Security Law, as well as a fine of 500,000 won ($500)each for violation of the Assembly-Demonstration Law.

2) Park Joon-seon, Jeong Won-hyun, Nam-goong Won and Oh Min-gyu were given 1 year in prison, but with a suspension of imprisonment for 2 years for violation of National Security Law, and a fine of 500,000 won each for violation of Assembly-Demonstration Law.

The meaning of the decision was as follows:

1) The SWLK (Socialist Workers League of Korea) is judged to be an “organization for propaganda and agitation for national disturbances”, thus violating Article 7 of the National Security Law. The sentences obviously reveal once again the political nature of Korean judicial branch, as a part of the state apparatus serving the capitalist class.

2) The suspension of the prison sentences should be recognized as the result of the Korean and international protest movements. If, however, the defendants are arrested for any reason during the suspension period, they can be jailed immediately. The suspensions are thus aimed at hobbling the political activities of the SWLK, and only a bit better than immediate imprisonment.

3) The eight accused will appeal this sentence to the high court.

After the sentences came down, the defendants issued the following statement:

“We will live and act confidently as revolutionary socialists without regard to the political oppression of the Korean state apparatus.

Thank you to all socialists and workers in the world who supported our judicial struggle.

Please transmit our gratitude to the comrades of the world.”

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