We would like to express our concern at the arrest of leading members of the South Korean Candlelight movement against the import of US beef.
We are also concerned at repression against left organisations including the illegal search for Kim Kwang-il, who is both a leading member of the movement and of the socialist group All Together.
Since the arrest of chairperson Lee Seok-haeng of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions on 6 December 2008, Kim Kwang-il became the last leading member of the Candlelight movement who has not yet been arrested.
The movement represents the mass of ordinary working people, and has been described as the “great people’s power” by International Amnesty researcher Norma Kang Muico, who was sent to investigate police violence against peaceful protesters.
The movement included everyone from elementary school students to 80 year-old pensioners who wanted to express their concern about the violation of their food sovereignty and, most of all, their democratic rights.
The first protest on 2 May 2008, was triggered by the unilateral decision of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to resume the import of US beef, which had been banned because of credible suspicions that it might be infected with mad cow disease.
But, the protests quickly became a symbol of democracy and people’s power against the “profit, not people, first” neoliberal policies of the Lee Myung-bak government and the extreme inequality prevalent in South Korean society.
The movement reached a peak when people gathered on 10 June for a peaceful candlelight protest. There were more than a million people in the greater Seoul area alone.
However, the government responded with force, repressing the peaceful protests. It used fire extinguishers and water cannon, wielded shields and batons, and crushed the people with military boots.
National Police Commissioner Eo Cheong-soo is leading what he proclaimed in the mainstream media “the real 80s military dictator style” violent repression.
In order to completely clamp down on all resistance, the government revived the anti-communist national security law. This attacks people’s rights of freedom of speech and assembly by arresting far left activists and pro-North Korean organisations.
Currently, the police are carrying out an extensive military-style search for Kim Kwang-il. He is known as an anti-war activist at home and internationally, and is also a leading member of All Together, a socialist organisation in South Korea.
The police raided and searched All Together’s offices without a proper warrant. Plain clothes police are staked out in front of the office and have placed All Together’s internet homepage and other activities on constantly surveillance.
The police used Kim Kwang-il’s cell phone records to harass and question more than 60 All Together members and others.
We demand that the Lee Myung-bak government and the police immediately stop the repression against South Korean people’s democratic rights and release the arrested supporters of the Candlelight movement. Furthermore, the police must immediately clear Kim Kwang-il of any charge and stop the surveillance of All Together.
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