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Supreme Court’s ruling thoroughly bans civil servants’ political activities

Supreme Court’s ruling thoroughly bans civil servants’ political activities

Posted December. 28, 2013 05:59,   


The Supreme Court found the chairman and other leaders of the Korea Government Employees’ Union guilty, saying that their proclaiming of a national crisis with political purpose and holding a national convention constitutes political activities banned for civil servants. Last year, the Supreme Court also gave guilty verdict to teachers with the Korea Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union, who made proclamation of a crisis criticizing the government. The latest ruling goes a step further to that ruling to effectively suggest that civil servants are banned from even holding an assembly supporting such a proclamation, and broadly recognizes the scope of political activities banned for civil servants. The court thus sternly judges that proclaiming a national crisis is a political act, and activities endorsing such a proclamation constitutes political act as well.

Under the Constitution and the National Civil Servant Act, civil servants are strictly obliged to keep political neutrality. The defendants claimed, “The activities were justly conducted by the civil servants’ union,” but the Supreme Court said, “There is a high chance that engaging in political activities could impair fairness in official duty and damage the public’s trust,” in issuing the guilty verdict. The court thus ruled that “Announcing a statement in support of proclamation of a crisis by the teachers’ union against the government with a specific political intent and holding a national convention is a ‘collective act beyond the scope of civil servants’ official duty.”

Members of the Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union and the Korea Government Employees’ Union tend to argue that making political expressions and holding assembly constitutes freedom of expression, but this is misguided understanding. When compared with ordinary citizens, civil servants’ activities inevitably have bigger social impact. If one wants to make political expressions freely, he or she could engage in such activities after giving up the stature as civil servant.

Civil servants with the civil servants’ union and the teachers union, who make political statements at the site of rail workers’ strike or participate in assemblies to proclaim national crises, should take the latest ruling by the Supreme Court very seriously.

The ban on civil servants’ political activities is restriction but it also constitutes a protective measure as well. During authoritarian rules, there were historical precedents that those in political power unjustly mobilized and exploited civil servants. Only when civil servants’ political neutrality is guaranteed, their rank and status as civil servants can be protected from unjust pressure or intervention from political power. Civil servants are service personnel who serve the nation and the public, rather than political parties or administrations.

The National Intelligence Service and the military cyber command severely damaged the constitutional spirit of civil servants’ political neutrality by uploading posts and Twitter messages, which are suspected as constituting their intervention in the presidential election. The civil servants’ union and the teachers’ union are also facing legal actions for conducting illegal electioneering by using SNS, and are undergoing prosecutorial investigation. The Supreme Court’s ruling should serve as a watershed from which government employees solemnly keep in mind the spirit of political neutrality as defined by the Constitution.