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88 teachers face punishment for anti-govt. action

Leftist union vows to fight even harder against ‘abuse of power’

June 27,2009
The Education Ministry yesterday led the largest crackdown in history on the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union. Almost 17,000 members of the left-wing group made a joint anti-government statement 10 days earlier.

The ministry said it will file complaints against 88 teachers with prosecutors for having led the collective action, and they will later either be laid off or suspended from work. The union said it will respond with an even stronger demonstration, claiming the government is restricting Korean citizens’ conscience and freedom of expression.

The nation’s largest teachers union has not faced such heavy government reprisals since 1999, when the Kim Dae-jung administration acknowledged it as a “legitimate” labor organization. Prior administrations laid off hundreds of teachers who belonged to the group on the grounds that they could not be considered “laborers.”

One-fifth of the total membership, or about 17,000 people, signed a joint statement criticizing the government and urging a wide-scale reform. The teachers union released the statement on June 18 at a press conference in Seoul. The statement said the government has put democracy in danger. It called for full-fledged reform, guaranteed media freedom and the reinforcement of human rights.

Several political, religious and cultural groups have made similar moves since former President Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide on May 23. Roh was undergoing a prosecution probe on bribery allegations. The groups claim the incumbent Lee Myung-bak administration has taken political revenge against the former president and should assume responsibility for Roh’s death. Anti-government protests have since sprouted and the government has mobilized police on a large scale to quell demonstrations.

The teachers union on June 22 unveiled a complete list of the teachers who signed the statement in its weekly magazine. Of the 88 teachers who led the group, 10 will be laid off and 78 will be suspended from work for varying periods. The rest of the 17,000 members will face lighter punishment from the government. The ministry said the teachers’ participation in the anti-government movement goes against several regulations for civil servants including duty to sincerity, obedience, maintenance of dignity and a ban on collective action. Since the content of the statement bears no relation to their labor conditions, the teachers violated rules banning teachers from taking part in political action.

“It isn’t acceptable that they tainted the holy sphere of education with political ideology,” said Jang Gi-won, head of the ministry’s planning department. “We made such a resolute decision on punishment because we thought the event needed to be handled according to law and principle.”

The teachers’ group said in a press conference that the punishment is an “abuse of its power.” It said it will gather signatures from 400,000 teachers for a second anti-government statement.


By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]



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