Police extend ultimatum to labor union leader holed up in Buddhist temple

December 9, 2015
Police officers try to forcibly remove temple officials from the entrance of a building on the grounds of Jogye Temple in central Seoul, Wednesday, where Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) head Han Sang-gyun has taken refuge to avoid arrest. (Yonhap)

Police officers try to forcibly remove temple officials from the entrance of a building on the grounds of Jogye Temple in central Seoul, Wednesday, where Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) head Han Sang-gyun has taken refuge to avoid arrest. (Yonhap)

By Jhoo Dong-chan

South Korean police called off operations to arrest an umbrella union leader who has been holed up in Jogye Temple in central Seoul, Wednesday, after accepting senior monks’ mediation proposal.

After sealing off the temple’s entrance to prevent Han Sang-gyun, head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), from escaping, more than 1,000 police officers set out to arrest him at 4 p.m, the police-set deadline for Han to come out voluntarily. Police earlier said they would enter the temple premises to arrest Han for organizing illegal rallies unless he failed to surrender by that time.

Some 50 union members and monks resisted the operation in front of the building where Han was staying, only to be quelled by police. Some sustained minor injuries during the clash.

About an hour after the confrontation, Ven. Jaseung, president of the Jogye Order, held a press conference to urge both police and the KCTU to stop the clashes, saying he would solve the issue of Han’s stay by noon today.

“Earlier today we asked police to delay their enforcement of the law,” the monk said. “We have made efforts to solve the situation through talks since Han came here. Arresting him by force will not solve anything and will only result in another conflict.”

Accepting his proposal, police halted the operation. But they guarded the entrance of the building to prevent Han from fleeing.

Police also said if the temple officials fail to persuade Han to surrender, they would resume the arrest operation.

The KCTU said if police forcibly take Han, it would launch a strike.

Temple officials also said earlier in the day that having police force their way into the temple was equivalent to trampling on the Jogye Order and Korean Buddhism as a whole.

“The Jogye Temple is a representative place of the Jogye Order, and a place of prayer for 100,000 believers,” Ven. Ilgam said in a morning statement. “We urge the police not to make the mistake of entering the temple under the name of enforcing the law.”

He said that the government would be held responsible for anything that happened if the police enter the temple.

Ven. Ilgam also said that they understand Han’s burden and pain but urged him to “make a prompt decision not to repeat violence,” virtually urging him to surrender.

Monks there have tried to persuade Han to leave for days, but he has refused. He rather criticized the monks and Jogye Order through his online social networking channels, saying the monks were siding with the government.

Han, the head of the nation’s second-largest umbrella union, has been on the police’s wanted list for refusing to appear in court on previous charges of organizing illegal demonstrations. Han also allegedly orchestrated the first anti-government rally on Nov. 14 where violence erupted between police and protesters, and has taken refuge in the temple since then.

Last week, there was a physical confrontation as Buddhists at the temple tried to force him out. Han promised he would leave if the second rally on Dec. 5 was peaceful. Although the second rally with 14,000 participants was held peacefully without any violence, Han has not left the temple.

He said he would leave if the government and the National Assembly stop their moves to reform the nation’s labor market, which the KCTU says would deteriorate workers’ lives. He said he cannot betray the wishes of 20 million workers who want to block the reform bill.

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