Court convicts three Jeju teachers’ union execs

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Court convicts three Jeju teachers’ union execs

The Jeju District Court convicted three executive-level members of the Jeju chapter of the Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union of violating a law that bans teachers from engaging in political activities.

The union issued a statement last year that criticized the Lee Myung-bak administration’s crackdown on anti-government activities.

In yesterday’s ruling, Kim Sang-jin, the leader of the union’s Jeju branch, was fined 1 million won ($899). Two other former executive-level members, Kim Myeong-hun and Ko Eui-suk, were given suspended sentences after they requested a formal trial when summary indictments fined them each 2 million won.

Lee Yong-hu, the judge who presided over the case, said, “The union’s statement violated the public service worker’s law, as engaging in collective political action violates teachers’ primary duties,” but because the statement did not advocate violence, the union leaders received lighter sentences.

The defendants had argued that the statement was made outside of the classroom and did not influence their students, or interfere with their ability to teach. Judge Lee said students are young and lack the ability to make independent political judgments.

“Even if schoolteachers expressed their political opinions outside of class, the teachers were still in a position to influence students through mass media and the Internet [which reported the statement],” Lee said. “Among public servants, a teacher must take the most care when expressing political opinions.”

Kim and the two other executive members of the Jeju chapter were accused by the Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial Office of Education last June of instigating the union’s joint statement. Prosecutors sought a year in prison for Kim, and 3 million won in fines against the other two executive members.

The Jeju Education Office last year dismissed Kim and suspended the two others from work for a month.

“I had hoped the court would play its role as the last fortress that protects democracy, but the ruling didn’t turn out as I’d anticipated,” Kim said.

“Finding a person guilty for a statement that expressed concerns over the country’s policies puts democracy in retreat and infringes on a person’s basic rights,” Kim told journalists after the ruling. “I’ll appeal the case to prove that I’m innocent.”

Yesterday’s was the sixth ruling regarding teachers who issued anti-government statements, and it points to inconsistencies in court rulings.

Other chapters of the union had joined with the Jeju chapter in issuing the statements, and similar evidence was presented against their leaders.

In January, the Jeonju District Court acquitted executive-level members of the union’s North Jeolla chapter indicted on the same charges. In the Incheon District Court in February, however, teachers’ union defendants were found guilty and penalized. The same month, Daejeon District Court found union members guilty, while Daejeon District Court’s Hongseong branch cleared other union members. Last month, Cheongju District Court found the regional chapter executive members guilty of the charges.

By Kim Mi-ju []
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