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[Newsmaker] Police to summon KCTU head for holding mass rally in violation of Level 4 virus rules

Yang Kyung-soo, head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, speaks during a press conference held on July 27. (Yonhap)
Yang Kyung-soo, head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, speaks during a press conference held on July 27. (Yonhap)
Police in the coming days will summon the head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions as they investigate the umbrella labor group’s rally last month for violating COVID-19 rules.

Yang Kyung-soo, head of the KCTU, is scheduled to appear at Seoul Jongno Police Station by 2 p.m. on Wednesday for questioning, according to police on Monday. The timing of the meeting was reportedly at the request of Yang.

Police asked Yang to appear for the investigation three times last month, but Yang did not appear as requested. Police also filed for an arrest warrant for Yang, but the warrant was denied as the KCTU head submitted a form asking for postponement.

On July 3, 4,701 members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, one of the two major umbrella labor groups in Korea, gathered in central Seoul to demand changes to labor laws and a higher minimum wage. KCTU members from all over the country gathered for the event.

The labor group pushed forward with the rally despite repeated requests from the government and warnings of legal action from law enforcement. Seoul and nearby regions were under Level 4 social distancing rules, which only allow for single-person protests.

After three COVID-19 cases were discovered among rally participants, the KCTU faced criticism that it was contributing to the already-serious virus situation and helping the virus spread beyond Greater Seoul.

Shortly after the rally, police launched an investigation into 23 key figures within the umbrella labor group, and have since summoned and interviewed 15 of them. The latest questioning was of Kim Ho-gyu, head of the Korea Metal Workers’ Union, which is associated with the KCTU.

Yet criticism has been raised against law enforcement for losing leads in its investigation and failing to contain the KCTU from further violating virus rules.

The KCTU managed to hold two more illegal rallies in Wonju, Gangwon Province, while the investigation was underway, and even summoning key figures for questioning ran into obstacles, with subjects continuing to deny requests for attendance.

The government has also faced criticism in responding to the KCTU rally, with some questioning whether the government exercised double standards in responding to virus concerns and mass gatherings.

It was recently discovered that the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency received just a single-page report from the KCTU containing the number of COVID-19 tests and the number of negative test results.

The document did not contain a list of rally participants, with only one table printed on it, according to the office of Rep. Choi Chun-sik. The one-page report served as the basis for the labor group to claim its members had been unfairly discriminated against for exercising their freedom of assembly.

Lawmakers from opposition parties have claimed the government response has been starkly more hostile when responding to rallies and events from conservative groups than liberal ones. Fewer police officers were dispatched to the scene, while warnings and other comments were noticeably toned down, they say.

By Ko Jun-tae (