Disciplinary Action against KTU’s State-of-Affairs Declaration is Violation of Freedom of Speech

On 18th June, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) announced that it will impose disciplinary measures on Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU), in face of the union’s issuance of a ‘Declaration on State-of-Affairs’. Disciplinary measures towards teachers clearly violate freedom of conscience stipulated in the constitution. The KCTU strongly supports the declaration issued by the KTU and warns that if the Lee Myung Bak imposes disciplinary measures against the teachers, then it will consider the measures to be outright oppression and counteract accordingly.

A ‘Declaration on State-of-Affairs (shigook-seon-eon)’ is a form of political statement, usually expressing concern over the overall ‘state-of-affairs’ of the nation and is thus critical of the government. These declarations, which are normally signed by individuals and tend to have more symbolic weight than day-to-day statements, have been issued ever since the days of military dictatorship. Various declarations of the kind have been issued lately by many sectors of society.

Through the declaration, the KTU pointed out the autocratic politics of President Lee Myung Bak, including the degradation of democracy such as violations of freedoms of press, assembly and expression, and excessive abuse of police authority. Furthermore, the declaration criticized the government’s education policies that impose excessive competition upon the students and raise the already burdensome private education expenses. Already many individuals and organizations had expressed the same concerns before the KTU – in other words, these concerns have wide public consensus. Thus, the over-reaction shown by MEST can only be interpreted as an attempt to find justification for enforcing a police state, which is clearly abuse of authority.

MEST argues that the school teachers had violated laws on government employees mandating fidelity and ban on political activities, however, the arguments are groundless. A document written on 12th June by a team inside the MEST, which had the task of looking into the legality of the declaration, concluded that:

l  A signature campaign cannot be considered as collective action that involves negligence of duty or hinders public wellbeing.

l  A signature campaign is not related to exercise of duty under obligations of fidelity and obedience. Also, since participation in the campaign only takes a few minutes, it is difficult to consider it to violate duty of undivided attention to work.

l  A signature campaign is within the sphere of freedom of expression stipulated in the constitution, so it is difficult to consider it to violate the National Public Service Act and the Teachers' Unions Act.

It is not the first time for the KTU to issue a Declaration on State-of-Affairs, and the MEST itself had acknowledged that there is no illegality to the issuance. Nevertheless, it is threatening to impose disciplinary action against teachers who signed onto the declaration, which is yet another manifestation of unilateralism and arrogance of President Lee Myung Bak as well as being an abuse of administrative power on the part of the MEST. ‘Conformity’ and ‘subjugation’ seem to the main philosophy behind Lee’s government.

There is no justification or precedent in punishing individuals or organizations who express their concern about politics. MEST must cancel its plan of enforcing disciplinary measures against KTU members, and should stop its unjustifiable repression against the KTU. The KCTU reiterates its support for the KTU declaration. If the government pushes ahead with the disciplinary measures, the KCTU and its affiliate unions will struggle in defense of KTU.

19th June, 2009

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