South Korean Government hunts Socialist leader of Candlelight Movement

International Appeal in Defense of the South Korean Candlelight Movement

We would like to express our deep concern for the arrest of leading members of the candlelight movement against the import of US beef and the military-dictator-style repression against left organizations including the illegal military-operation-like search for another leading member of the movement and All Together, Kim Kwang-il.

With the arrest of Chairperson Lee Seok-haeng of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions on December 6, 2008, Kim Kwang-il became the last leading members of the candlelight movement on wanted list.

Described as the “great people’s power” by International Amnesty researcher Norma Kang Muico sent to investigate police violence against peaceful protestors, the candlelight movement against the import of US beef represents the mass of ordinary working people in South Korea including elementary school students to 80 years old seniors who wanted to express their concern about the violation of their food sovereignty and, most of all, their democratic rights.

Although the first protest on May 2, 2008, was triggered by the unilateral decision of President Lee Myung-bak (LMB) to resume the import of US beef that was banned with the credible reasons that it might be infected with mad cow disease, the protest quickly became the symbol of democracy and people’s power against the ‘profit, not people, first’ neoliberal policies of the LMB government and the extreme inequality prevalent in South Korea society. The movement reached a peak when more than a million people just in the greater Seoul area alone gathered on June 10 for a peaceful candlelight protest.

However, the LMB government responded with force repressing the peaceful protests. It discharged fire extinguishers and water cannon, wielded shields and batons, and crushed the people with military boots. 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 LMB government resorted to bringing back the half-dead anti-communist national security law to life and attacking people’s rights of freedom of speech and assembly by arresting activists in far left and pro-North Korea organizations.

Currently, the police are carrying out an extensive military-operation-like search for Kim Kwang-il. Known to many as anti-war activist at home and internationally, Kim Kwang-il is also a leading member of All Together, a socialist organization in South Korea. The police raided and searched the office of All Together without 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. Using the cell phone records of Kim Kwang-il, the police harassed and questioned more than 60 All Together members and others.

We demand that the Lee Myung-bak government and the police immediately stop military-dictator-style repression against the South Korean people’s democratic rights and release the arrested leading members and participants 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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