Teachers’ union head guilty of politicking

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Teachers’ union head guilty of politicking

The top executive of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union was convicted yesterday of violating a law that bans public servants from taking part in political activities.

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

In yesterday’s Seoul Central District Court ruling, Jeong Jin-hu, the head of the teachers’ union, was fined 3 million won ($2,587) and 23 other union members received fines between 700,000 and 2 million won.

“Public servants are the ones who offer social service to the entire people,” Justice Jeong Han-ik read in the verdict. “To ensure neutrality of authority, public servants’ labor union activities must be limited to raising their economic status, such as salary and welfare issues.”

The constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but Justice Jeong’s ruling made his view clear that the principle should only be valid when it doesn’t infringe on other basic rights.

“Jeong Jin-hu and others unilaterally expressed their political positions on contentious issues including the four rivers restoration project and their action somewhat hurt the public interest,” Justice Jeong said.

Jeong added that the teachers were given relatively light punishment because the declaration of an antigovernment statement wasn’t antisocial and unconstitutional and their action was relatively peaceful in manner.

Prosecutors sought a one-year jail term for the union head.

The previous 13 trials dealing with antigovernment statements made by teachers across the country remain controversial.

Judges at Jeonju District Court of North Jeolla and Daejeon District Court found teachers not guilty in two of the 13 previous trials while judges in other courts found teachers in 11 trials guilty.

The prosecutors appealed the two trials that found teachers not guilty and they were subsequently found guilty in recent trials.

The head of the teachers’ union, Jeong Jin-hu, and 23 other teachers held a press conference immediately after the ruling and said they will appeal the case.

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