South Korea’s spy agency has raided the country’s main labour group, saying the operation was part of an investigation into whether some members had links to North Korea.
The National Intelligence Service and police raided the office of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) in central Seoul on Wednesday.
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Some of its members were suspected of having “ties with North Korea”, the spy agency said. The offices of the KCTU-affiliated Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union in the southwest of the city were also raided.
“We and the national police agency have been carrying out our own investigation into the suspects’ alleged ties with North Korea for several years,” an official from the spy agency told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
“Based on the evidence obtained in the process, we judged that a compulsory investigation was necessary, and we went ahead with the raid after the court issued a search and seizure warrant,” the source said.
South Korea remains officially at war with North Korea, and under a controversial and archaic National Security Act, possession of publications or other materials produced in the North can be a criminal offence. Local media reported that the raids were prompted by alleged violations of the security act.
The KCTU called the raid “barbaric”, accusing Seoul’s conservative government of “conniving” to target the labour organisation.
As one of South Korea’s largest union umbrella groups, the KCTU was linked to a recent strike by truck drivers whose union falls under the KCTU.
President Yoon Suk-yeol last month ordered striking drivers in the fuel and steel sectors back to work, threatening jail time or fines if they did not comply.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that union officials had physically prevented the authorities from entering the KCTU head office, demanding that the raid and any seizure of property be conducted in the presence of a lawyer. A scuffle reportedly broke out between the police and union officials during the confrontation, Yonhap reported.
The National Security Act, which dates back to 1948, prohibits citizens from accessing most North Korean-produced content, including its official Rodong Sinmun newspaper. The law has been widely criticised, including by the United Nations, which says it is a “seriously problematic” challenge to freedom of expression in South Korea.
Thousands of people, including union activists, were imprisoned under the law by the military governments that ruled South Korea for decades until the early 1990s. The act was often used to accuse people of engaging in pro-Pyongyang activities or spying for the North.