Weekly Brief: Oct. 31st – Nov. 6th

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No end in sight for Choi Soon-sil scandal

The Choi Soon-sil gate continues to grip South Koreans and the world abroad alike. Choi Soon-sil is president Park Geun-hye’s confidante, accused of abusing her position to intervene in politics and embezzle money from government projects. Last week, prosecutors detained Choi for questioning and charged her with abuse of authority and attempted fraud. More high ranking officials were summoned for questioning, bringing the scandal closer to the president herself.

A second demonstration in downtown Seoul on Saturday drew a large crowd (estimates range from 45,000 to even 300,000). A third rally is planned for this coming Saturday. Organizers are hoping for a turnout of 1 million people.

Meanwhile, the president’s approval rating dropped to 5%, but she shows no intention of stepping down. She’s reshuffled her cabinet, nominated a new Prime Minister and made another televised apology, all in apparent efforts to hold on to power. There’s debate over whether a resignation or impeachment, this close to the presidential election in December 2017, would do much good. More importantly, the business of the running the country isn’t happening as the political process is at a standstill.

Korea Exposé’s own Se-Woong Koo likened the events to a historical drama, a popular genre of TV soap opera. Other outlets have gravitated towards the “news of the weird” angle. Whatever the case, enjoy the political theater while it lasts. It’s not too often that you see the New York Times writing daily stories on South Korean politics, especially with the U.S. election now mere hours away.

Undocumented Thai workers face a tough life in S. Korea

Life in South Korea is hard for migrant laborers, recruited through official channels. Things get worse if you’ve overstayed your visa to find under-the-table work. An estimated 52,000 Thai citizens are in that position, drawn to South Korea by the higher wages available here. That means undocumented Thai workers are nearly double the 24,000 documented Thais, who hold jobs approved by the government.

As with undocumented migrants in much of the world, they face terrible working conditions and abusive employers. Combine this with the looming threat of deportation and you have cases of deaths from stress and heart failure.

Gov’t seeks 2 year sentence for peaceful demonstration

After a protracted judicial proceeding, the prosecution is seeking a 2 year prison term for Yong Hye-in. Yong participated in a demonstration in October 2014, related to the Sewol sinking in April of that year. The other demonstrators received fines, but Yong alone is facing jail time.

Yong was active in organizing demonstrations and meetings with families of the Sewol victims, including the “Stay where you are” (“가만히 있으라”) silent protest movement. The court will decide on her sentence on Dec. 12.

Yong Hye-in, a young activist who organized a "Be still" demonstration to protest the government's handling of the Sewol disaster, is facing two years in prison. (Jun Michael Park/Korea Exposé)
Yong Hye-in, a young activist who organized a silent protest to critique the government’s handling of the Sewol disaster, is facing two years in prison. (Jun Michael Park/Korea Exposé)

In brief

  • A man accused of sexually assaulting an Australian woman was convicted on Tuesday. Seoul police arrested the suspect only after the victim started a social media campaign, accusing the police of misconduct and failing to collect evidence.
  • Cigarette prices nearly doubled to 4,500 KRW in September 2014 to curb smoking, and smoking rates have dropped to 40% among men. But guess what? drinking and obesity are on the rise.
  • 10.4%: The portion of South Korea’s GDP spent on social welfare. Among the 35 OECD countries, South Korea ranks the second lowest, well below the OECD average of 21%.
  • The coast guard used hand-operated guns against Chinese fishing boats for the first time. Authorities approved use of these guns after a Chinese boat rammed and sunk a coast guard vessel.

In Depth

  • Two international NGOs have issued statements condemning the government’s short-lived plan to toughen abortion laws. The statements make a no-nonsense argument against criminalization of abortion. The government put the plan on hold following a large demonstration in Seoul against the plan.

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And that was the news from last week. We value your feedback. Send any questions, comments, errors, or omissions to weeklybrief@8d2.359.myftpupload.com.

Weekly Brief is a collection of the must-read articles regarding human rights and social issues in South Korea, produced in collaboration with the Korea Human Rights Foundation (KHRF / 한국인권재단). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of KHRF.

Cover Image: SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – 14 May 2014: One months after the Sewol ferry sinking, then-student activist Yong Hye-in leads a silent march through the streets of Seoul, mourning the victims and demanding government accountability. (Jun Michael Park/Korea Exposé)

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