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South Korean crane protester faces stiff prison sentence

February 1, 2012 |  4:00 am
South Korean crane protestor Kim Jin-suk faces stiff prison sentence

REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- Last year, activist Kim Jin-suk staged a 10 month-long sit-in atop a construction crane to protest unfair labor practices by one of South Korea's industrial giants.

Now she faces nearly twice that amount of time in the clink.

Prosecutors in the southeastern port city of Busan are seeking an 18-month jail term for the bespectacled 51-year-old activist, who commandeered a towering crane in the work yard of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction in 2011.

For 309 days, fellow activists hoisted up Kim's food and necessities by rope as the company stood by helplessly, fearful of provoking public sympathy if they had her forcibly removed.

Now it seems to be payback time.

Kim voluntarily came down Nov. 10, claiming victory after the firm announced negotiations with striking workers. She later pleaded guilty to charges of interfering with business and causing what officials called "extended chaos" in Busan as supporters took buses from Seoul numerous weekends to cheer her on.

Activists claim South Korea is infamous for working conditions that limit worker rights and punish union organizing. Prosecutors say they want to make an example of Kim to discourage other such acts of protest in the future.

"By holding the long-term protest, Kim paralyzed the company's business, disgraced the firm's image and created a bad precedent that a person can act illegally to obtain their purpose," prosecutors said.

Kim remains unbowed.

"A company should keep agreements with laborers, but Hanjin Heavy failed to do so often," she said. "Those not keeping promises should be punished first, then justice can be realized."

A ruling is expected later this month.


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South Korea activist's protest on cargo crane to enter 8th month

South Korean activist returns to earth after almost a year atop crane

-- John M. Glionna

Photo: Kim Jin-suk commandeered Crane No. 85 in Hanjin's Yeongdo shipyard, taking up residence there for 309 days. Credit: Matt Douma / For The Times