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Confusing Rulings on Teachers` Union

Posted February. 26, 2010 07:23,   


In June last year, high-ranking officials of the Korean Teachers & Education Workers` Union were found not guilty despite releasing a political statement, an act banned by law. Accordingly, certain union members were acquitted in two cases dealing with those prosecuted for failure to stay politically neutral. Other union members were found guilty in two similar cases at the first trial. Judges from district courts in Incheon and Daejeon found union members guilty of making a political statement, but the Jeonju District Court and another Daejeon judge acquitted them. These rulings have fueled distrust in the judiciary as judges are using their political preferences to decide on the political neutrality of educational workers.

Daejeon judge Kim Dong-hyeon found three high-ranking officials of the union’s Daejeon branch not guilty yesterday, saying, “The political statement was not intended to support a certain political party. This means they did not violate their responsibility to stay politically neutral.” But judge Cho Byeong-gu from the same court had ruled as guilty Feb. 11 three high-ranking officials of the union’s South Chungcheong Province branch, saying, “It is true that they did not support a certain political party. Nevertheless, they cooperated with other political groups and social organizations to exercise influence or block the government from making and implementing policies.” Accordingly, their behavior can be understood as a group action prohibited by law. In other words, two judges from the Daejeon court gave opposing verdicts on the same issue.

Kim has stretched the definition of freedom of expression by government officials. He has said, "Human beings inherently live a political existence and all kinds of social behavior have political aspects" and "If the right of government officials to criticize is widely granted, it could contribute to the public interest." He also said, “It is the older generation’s old-fashioned perspective to believe that a teachers’ political statement will significantly affect students. If teachers are punished, students will believe that criticism of those in power is not allowed. Accordingly, this will result in something not conducive to education.” The judge’s statements reflect his biased perspective that goes against common sense. He can hardly avoid criticism that he improvised the ruling after deciding that union members announcing a political statement were not guilty.

The court should make a clear and strict judgment on the political neutrality of public servants. Officials help decide and implement government policies, so by supporting their own political arguments through group action, they will add to social confusion. Discussions should be made among government officials before the implementation of policies. Government officials work for the government and should not be allowed to resist it and take to the streets. It is unacceptable if the court rules that teachers did not violate their responsibility to stay politically neutral even after they took group action on issues including the distorted TV program “PD Notebook,” the Yongsan disaster, the suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun, revision of media bills, and the cross-country canal project.