Courts go light on violent occupiersSix months after the Ssangyong Motor labor union ended its occupation of a factory, 55 members have been convicted. However, courts have so far chosen to mete out lenient sentences, prosecutors complain.
So far, 43 were handed suspended jail terms in their first trial. Of the 11 who were given actual prison terms, seven were granted suspended sentences by appeals courts.
Another member was fined, with no jail term.
Prosecutors say even the sentences at the original trials were soft. But now they are nearly nonexistent, they say. Prosecutors argue the courts’ leniency is in contrast to the government’s position that it would sternly punish those responsible for the incident. The 77-day seizure of the automaker’s factory in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi cost Korea’s fourth largest automaker 316 billion won ($269 million) lost in production. Occupiers also injured riot police sent to control the situation. Protesters used slingshots, Molotov cocktails and burning tires to repel officers.
Kang Ji-hyun, the spokesman of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union welcomed the reduced sentences. “The rulings by the first trial was politically motivated but we find the second rulings fair.”
A prosecutor who spoke on condition of anonymity complained he can’t understand why courts suspended prison sentences of protestors who were very active in the strike.
“Courts give too lenient sentences at trials related to politically-motivated and illegal strikes and that goes against the government’s principle of no mercy for illegal labor activities,” the prosecutor said. “In its first ruling, the Suwon District Court’s Pyeongtaek branch gave imprisonment sentences which were deemed to be stern and appropriate decisions. In the second trial, however, other courts reduced seven out of 11 protesters’ sentences and they eventually received suspended sentences. We need to wait and see how the ruling over 22 other protesters [that include Han Sang-kyun, the head of the Ssangyong Motor labor union] will be made this Friday, but I doubt there will be a big difference between Friday’s ruling and the previous rulings.”
Prosecutors in January sought a seven-year jail sentence for Han and terms of between two to five years for 21 other union leaders. The Suwon District Court’s Pyeongtaek branch will make it rulings on Friday.
The Suwon District Court’s Pyeongtaek branch gave a suspended jail sentence to a man surnamed Cho, a 39-year-old senior unionist at the Incheon chapter of Korean Metal Workers’ Union. Cho had been indicted on charges of injuring Ssangyong Motor workers with metal pipes and bamboo spears when they tried to enter the Pyeongtaek factory complex and resume production.
In a second trial, the Seoul High Court last month gave a suspended sentence to a Ssangyong unionist surnamed Lee, 33, overturning the first two-year sentence by the Suwon District Court’s Pyeongtaek branch. Lee was indicted on charges of shooting slingshots and throwing Molotov cocktails at police forces that tried to gain access into the factory.
In the first ruling, judges said Lee deserved a jail sentence as he spearheaded the attack against riot officers. To prevent national and social losses caused by the illegal strikes, the judges said in the ruling that, “it is necessary to sternly ask Lee to take responsibility for his wrongdoing.”
But judges at the Seoul High Court reduced Lee’s sentence, arguing Lee just followed orders from his union leadership and joined the strike because he didn’t hear specific reasons from the company why he was being laid off.
The prosecutor said after the public learned that Cho Du-sun, the rapist of an 8-year-old girl, only received a 12-year jail sentence there was a public outcry and punishments for violent crime were increased.
“However, there are no real discussions about punishment measures for cases like the Ssangyong Motor strike,” the prosecutor continued.
By Kim Mi-ju, Kwon Suk-chun [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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