South Korea: Mass arrests, raids of leftists

Three former members of the left-wing student group Capitalism Research Society (CRC) were taken into police custody on March 21.

Among those arrested was the group’s former president Choi Ho-hyeon. They were charged under the National Security Act, a draconian anti-communist law that was enacted in 1948 during the height of bloody right-wing suppressions of popular grassroots democratic movements.

The law has been repeatedly used to crack down on political opposition and progressive movements.

The CRC has been targeted for no reason other than its political position. The Korean National Police stated the reasons for their arrests as “benefiting the enemy, encouraging and praising communism”.

After the arrests, raids were carried out on the homes of nine CRC members. Police raided their homes and took hold of books, newspapers, USB drives and computer hard drives in search of “pro-communist” material.

Copies of the works of Karl Marx were highlighted by police as some of the “seditious” books they found.

The CRC is a Marxist academic research group with a membership base of 500 intellectuals and 6000 students. The group does not in any way support North Korea.

It engages in standard academic Marxist analysis of issues such as the global financial crisis, the Arab revolutions, and the Korea-US free trade agreement.

In response to the arrests, the Korean Federation of Student Councils staged a rally in front of Seodaemun police station. The police declared the demonstration “illegal” and staged a crackdown. Fifty-one students were arrested and detained.

This is the second persecution under the national security law in the past three months. On February 24, eight members of the Socialist Workers League (SWL) were convicted under the law for “propagating or instigating a rebellion against the State”.

They were given one-and-a-half year suspended jail sentences and fines of 500,000 won each. Among those convicted was left-wing professor emeritus Oh Se-Cheol from Yonsei University.

The SWL is a Trotskyist organisation that openly criticises the North Korean regime as "state capitalist".

The recent turn of events can only be seen as part of the right-wing Lee Myung Bak administration’s war on leftists and organised labour. Big crackdowns include the suppression of the candlelight anti-FTA protests in 2008, the brutal smashing of the 2009 Ssangyong workers strike and the huge fines that are routinely being forced onto unions for legitimate industrial action.

South Korea is quickly becoming a police state.