Protesting teachers cleared in district court

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Protesting teachers cleared in district court

The Jeonju District Court yesterday found four executive-level members of the Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union not guilty of violating a law banning teachers from collective political activities. The members, including Noh Byeong-sup, the head of the union’s North Jeolla branch, were indicted for leading a massive teacher protest against the government last June.

This is the first trial verdict concerning the teachers’ protest denouncing the Lee Myung-bak administration.

“[The union members’] actions did not go against the public interest and were made as individual citizens expressing their own criticisms regarding the government, which falls under their rights to freedom of expression,” said Kim Gyeun-tae, the judge who issued the verdict. “This incident does not violate article 65 of the Civil Servants Law, which bans collective political activities by teachers.”

The quartet, led by Noh, were accused by the North Jeolla Office of Education last June of participating in a progressive anti-government campaign when union members released a statement saying the Lee Myung-bak administration’s crackdown on anti-government rallies had jeopardized the nation’s democracy. Prosecutors demanded eight months’ imprisonment for Noh and 2 million won ($1,775) fines for each of the other three union members. The North Jeolla Office of Education had asked that Noh be fired and the others suspended from work for one month.

Noh said, “Justice still exists and I hope the courts in other regions will make wise decisions during first trials.” But Lee Nan-yeong of the Education Ministry said, “I express regret concerning the verdict by the Jeonju District Court. ... However, disciplinary measures concerning education civil servants can be carried out regardless of a court verdict.”

By Jang Dae-suk, Cho Jae-eun []

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