On 1 April 2014, inmate number 111 of Seoul Detention center, Mr. KIM Jung-woo – former chair of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU) Ssangyong Motor Branch – was released on bail. Since mid-March 2014, concerned human rights activists, trade unionists and concerned global citizens have joined a growing Amnesty International petition movement calling on President PARK Geunhye for KIM’s release. IndustriALL Global Union further circulated the petition through twitter and facebook in English, Spanish, Russian and French.
KIM had been detained since 10 June 2013, when he was arrested for protesting the authorities’ forcible eradication of the union’s sit-in tents. The union was calling for reinstatement of the illegitimately dismissed Ssangyong Motor workers and implementation of President Park Keunhye’s promised parliamentary investigation into Ssangyong Motor’s mass redundancy dismissals based on corporate accounting fraud. In particular, 24 Ssangyong Motor workers and family members had either committed suicide or suffered early sudden death from stress-related disorders in the wake of the mass dismissals and one of the sit-in tents housed a memorial where concerned citizens and supporters laid flowers to remember and pray for the 24 Ssangyong Motor dead. Though the KMWU was notified on 30 May 2013 that the Ssangyong workers’ memorial tent would be banned, the union had filed an injunction against the ban and the appeal was ongoing when the sit-in tents were suddenly burned down by an arsonist and government officials’ brought in trucks to cart away the protest materials and suddenly installed new, large flower beds at the very place where the sit-in tents used to stand.
In September 2013, the courts denied KIM release on bail citing article 95 of the Criminal Procedure Act, that they “suspect the defendant is likely to flee” and instead public prosecutors launched new charges calling for a heavier sentence. This High Court 1 April 2014 decision to allow early release on bail suggests that the pending new charges lodged by public prosecutors will not hold water in the 4 April hearing.
KMWU Ssangyong Motor Branch former chair KIM was one of the dismissed Ssangyong Motor workers included in a 7 February 2014 Seoul High Court ruling that found Ssangyong Motor’s dismissals illegitimate from the outset and nullified them.
Given the excessive force used to suppress the Ssangyong Motor workers’ strike, the arrest and imprisonment of over 100 workers for the strike, 15.8 billion KRW (about 15.8 million USD) worth of lawsuits suing the workers and union for damages from the strike and provisional seizure of workers’ severance pay, wages and homes to pay Ssangyong Motor and riot police and Ssangyong Motor’s insurance companies for strike damages, the 24 deaths and other persecution and pressure against the Ssangyong Motor workers, such an admission by the court that the strike was legitimate is extremely rare.
However, instead of reinstating the affected workers, the Ssangyong Motor owners – Indian auto and tractor company Mahindra & Mahindra – has decided to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.