Police beat and arrested South Korean activists, among them people living with HIV/AIDS, during a PEACEFUL march at the ICAAP in Busan. The march was organised to protest against Free Trade Agreements being negotiated across the Asia Pacific region. International and Korean activists were jointly marching through the Conference Convention Center. Even though the protest was not disrupting any activities of ICAAP, plainclothed government security staff considered the activists as a threat and arrested them.
Some of the activists were badly hurt while stopping the police arresting their colleagues.
At least three activists have been hospitalised and according to reports, the police have shown up at the hospital and threatened them with criminal charges. A woman activist, a lawyer working on human rights was taken away by force in a police car despite the best efforts of activists to prevent the arrest. Repeated questions as to why the activists were being arrested went unanswered.
After her release, Suh Yeon Chang, a lawyer working with the Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group GON G-GAM, stated that the police did not inform her of the reason for the arrest, which is illegal according to the South Korean criminal law. Even after reaching the police station, Chang says, the police were unable to inform her of the reason for the arrest. Nor was any legal form about the arrest from the scene made available, another requirement of Korean criminal law. Korean activists noted that this was unfortunately standard practice.
Activists from Asia-Pacific region were marching peacefully through the ICAAP to register their protest against FTAs being negotiated across the region with the European Union and the United States. The FTAs threaten access to generic ARVs and other essential medicines through their demands for increased intellectual property protection. South Korea has signed an FTA with the EU and the US. The US-Korea FTA is yet to be ratified by the South Korean Parliament and activists were hoping to highlight the dangers of the FTA to access to medicines through their march.
APN+, ITPC, APNSW, AFAO and ACT UP-Paris express their shock and outrage at the Korean police and security guards’ actions and strongly condemn the arrests and the beating of the activists that ultimately resulted in the hospitalisation of three people. They demand an unconditional apology from the South Korean Government, the South Korean Police and the conference security guards and concrete assurance that South Korean activists will face no further harassment for peaceful protests.
International activists are also extremely concerned about the fate of their Korean colleagues once the ICAAP conference is over. We call on UNAIDS and the Global Fund to take responsibility and follow up to ensure there is no further harassment or police action against South Korean activists.