Teachers’ union members convicted

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Teachers’ union members convicted

Four executive-level members of the South Chungcheong chapter of the Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union were convicted yesterday of violating a law that bans teachers from collective political activities by issuing a statement last year that criticized the Lee Myung-bak administration’s crackdown on antigovernment rallies.

In yesterday’s ruling, Yun Sang-gap, the head of the union’s South Chungcheong branch, and two senior union members were fined between 700,000 to 1 million won ($605 to $864). Baek Seung-gu, the chapter’s policy director, was given a suspended sentence.

Judge Kim Gyun-tae, who issued the verdict for the Daejeon District Court, said the union members’ joint statement “violates public service workers’ law which prohibits them from supporting and opposing certain political groups.

“Teachers having political opinions as individuals should be respected, but they are in a special position in society and collectively they must remain neutral, as making political statements to influence society could damage public order and legal peace.”

Yun and the three other executive members of the South Chungcheong chapter were accused by the South Chungcheong Office of Education last June last year of instigating the union’s joint statement.

The Education Office dismissed Yun and the three other members were suspended from work and had their salaries cut as a disciplinary measure.

Prosecutors had sought prison terms and penalties between 2 and 3 million won against the union members, but because the statement did not advocate violence and the defendants had already been punished by the Education Office, they received lighter sentences, Kim explained.

“I’m disappointed by the verdict as it goes against people’s expectations and Constitutional rights,” Yun said. “I will appeal the case to prove my innocence.”

Yesterday’s ruling points up inconsistencies in courts’ rulings in similar cases.

On Jan. 19, the Jeonju District Court acquitted executive-level members of the union’s North Jeolla chapter who were indicted on the same charges.

In Incheon District Court, however, teachers’ union defendants were found guilty of the charges and penalized.

By Kim Mi-ju, Kim Bang-hyeon [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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