In the early hours of September 2, police in Seoul raided the offices of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and arrested its president, Yang Kyeung-soo, for having organized large rallies in defiance of national laws requiring social distancing due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Korea JoongAng Daily reported that the police had entered the KCTU office at about 5:28 a.m and departed with Yang at about 6:29 a.m. The newspaper recalled that, according to the KCTU's estimates, 8,000 people had been in attendance at one of its rallies in the capital of South Korea on July 3, 2021.

The Korea Times recalled that the Seoul municipal government and health officials had repeatedly asked the KCTU to call off the July 3 rally. The paper noted that the arrest warrant for Yang had been issued on August 13. Yang was accused of violating the country's Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act and the Assembly and Demonstration Act, the Korea Times said.

'Violation of freedom of association'

In a tweet, Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, said the arrest of Yang was "absolutely outrageous." The human rights activist added, "This is a clear violation of freedom of association, & freedom of peaceful public assembly." He provided a link to a statement from the International Trade Union Confederation - Asia Pacific which called for Yang's "immediate release." The organization said the warrant for Yang's arrest was not justified because those participating in the rallies "observed social distancing rules and necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including wearing of masks and temperature checks."

'A powerful general strike' planned for October 20

The Korea JoongAng Daily noted that the KCTU had been a supporter of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, but the organization had vowed to respond to the arrest of its leader with "a powerful general strike" on October 20.

The Korea Times quoted a KCTU statement as saying the arrest of Yang was Moon's "declaration of war" against the union. The paper said that the arrest and public opposition to large COVID-spreading events had led to a decline in public support for the KCTU.

Crowds prevented an earlier arrest

A video report on KBS World News shows how crowds prevented police from carrying out the August 13 arrest warrant on August 18.

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The report also shows Yang defending the rallies by saying that working conditions had become so bad that workers were now more afraid of being fired or of dying from work-related injuries than of getting COVID-19.

The Korea JoongAng Daily noted that Yang had previously been interrogated by police for five and a half hours on August 4. The paper added that 22 other suspects had been questioned by police.