National Human Rights Commission Recommends Disciplinary Action against 6 Prison Officers, including the Director of the Jinju Correctional Institution (09-02-2002)
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recommended the Ministry of Justice to take disciplinary action against 6 officers at the Jinju Correctional Institution this Monday (9 Sept. 2002), since the officials had obstructed the inmates from petitioning in the presence of the staff of the NHRC. The six officers are (first names withheld): Lee (the former warden of the Jinju Correctional Institution), Kim (1st District Supervisor at Jinju Correctional Institution), Lee (the former director of the Security Department at Jinju Correctional Institution - current Head of the Supplies Section at Pusan Detion House), Chung (the night duty vice- supervisor at Jinju Correctional Institution), Cho (the officer at the Department of Complaints Handling) and Shim (director of Security Section at Jinju Correctional Institution). The NHRC found that the officers systematically blocked the inmates"s rights to file a petition at least 10 times in the past.
The actions by the officers constitute a violation of Article 10 of the Constitution of Korea (Right to Seek Happiness) and also Article 31 of the National Human Rights Commission Act (Guarantee of Petition Rights of Detainee of Detention or Protective Facility). Article 57 of National Human Rights Act reads: "A person who fails to permit or obstructs any petition . . . (sic) . . . shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 3 years or by a fine not exceeding 10 million won."
The incident began when Mr. Lee - suffering from tuberculosis and diagnosed as H.I.V. positive - filed a petition against the governor at the Jinju Correctional Institution. Mr. Lee first asked that this illness be "appropriately taken cared of," and, while investigating his claim, the NHRC found that the authorities at Jinju Correctional Institution have been systematically obstructing the inmates from realizing their right to petition.
The investigation found that Shim, the director of Security Section at Jinju Correctional Institution, had threatened Lee, asserting that Lee will "be sent to a tougher prison," if he did not drop his petition to the NHRC.
In the mean time, it was revealed that the authorities at the Jinju Correctional Institution also tried to obstruct inmates Euom and Ham from petitioning in the presence of the "commissioner etc." To protest the beatings by the inwards officers. Euom filed a petition in the presence of the "commissioner etc," no less than 5 times during the month of May alone, none of which was documented in the petition files at the Jinju Correctional Institution. Cho - from the Department of Complaints Handling - told Euom who had come for a consultation that, "even if you turn in a petition, no one will receive it;" he also told Euom to withdraw the charges.
On 14 June, Ham turned in a written petition to Chung, the night duty supervisor. A week later, Choi called Ham and told him to "get used to the environment," while promising Ham a consultation with the head of security Section. On the 3 July Ham again filed for petition, this time in the presence of the staff" to which officer Chung made a phone called to officer Cho. However, officer Cho remained evasive, only muttering out, "I"ll see you tomorrow."
Throughout the investigative process, the authorities at the Jinju Prison have insisted that they never "obstructed the inmates from their right to petition," but after careful analysis of the memos of the conversation, documents relating to the petitions, and work-related documents, the NHRC has reached a conclusion that the officers at the Jinju Prison have been perpetrating significant and systematic obstructions against the inmates" right to petition.
Furthermore, on 24 April, the NHRC recommended the Ministry of Justice to release Lee, since his health had been getting worse. Initially, the recommendation was rejected, but on 13 August, in the midst of the investigation, Lee was finally released.
This incident concerns the basic human rights of the inmates in prison - whose rights have thus far been ignored and regarded as insignificant. The inmate"s right to petition in the presence of "the commissioner etc" is guaranteed by Article 31 of the National Human Rights Commission Act. The acts committed by the authorities of the Jinju Prison constitute a violation of the basic rights of the inmates.
The NHRC has been using the "petition in the presence of a commissioner" system since 3 December 2001, and to this day (2 September 2002) has received 363 petitions through this system. The NHRC firmly believes that the disciplinary action, as recommended herein, will contribute to safeguard the rights of the inmates in the future.