Somyot receives Human Rights Award in South Korea
On November 5, the Jeon Tae Il Foundation (Chairman Lee Soo-ho, Former Chairman of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions) announced that Thai prisoner of conscience Somyot Prueksakasemsuk won the 24th Jeon Tae Il Labour Award.
Established in 1988, the Jeon Tae Il Labour Award has been given to 7 individuals and 29 organizations up to last year. For this award, labor organizations and individuals nominate candidates, but the Jeon Tae Il Foundation judges select the final winner. The award ceremony is held at the “National Workers’ Rally in honor of the Spirit of Jeon Tae IL,” which takes place every year in early November.
This prestigious award within the labor community goes to those who have realized the spirit of Jeon Tae IL most completely. The final winner should be the one who has contributed the most to the labor movement, and civil and labor rights in terms of community organizing, commitment, morality, and deep affection and trust in human beings.
Before comrade Somyot, Korean labor activists and organizations have been the only award winners. But, this year, the Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union (KHMU, President Yoo Ji-hyun) nominated our Thai brother Somyot, and the Foundation endorsed the health union’s recommendation. Hence, Somyot has become the first non-Korean winner of the prize.
Meanwhile, the Foundation decided to award the same special prize to Chairman Han Sang-gyun of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), who has been detained. Since both winners are in prison, no one can attend the award ceremony. For brother Somyot, his daughter plans to be on stage on her father’s behalf for the ceremony taking place on November 12.
The special prizewinner Somyot (55) had been active in the labor movement for over three decades as an activist and a journalist before being imprisoned by the military regime on April 30, 2011. He was charged with so-called lese majeste. He received an 11 year sentence in 2013, but is currently serving a five year and six months prison-term.
Somyot formed the Centre for Labour Information Service and Training (CLIST). At CLIST, he unionized and trained workers in various industries such as chemicals, apparels, and automobiles, and thereby helped workers organize democratic labor unions and cemented solidarity among unionists. With a high level of interest in the Korean democratic labor movement, he has long been in touch with Korean labor movements since the 1990s. He organized trainings and exchanges between labor movement activities in Korea and Thailand and translated “March for the Beloved,” a flagship movement song of Korea into Thai as the “Solidarity Song.” The translated song soon became popular among Thai unionists.
Somyot has also been a leader in international solidarity activities. Whenever the Korean government oppressed the KCTU, he held a protest rally at the Korean embassy in Thailand.
The KHMU first got to know brother Somyot in 2008 when it ran a training program for Thai union executive activists in cooperation with Somyot. The KHMU has continued a campaign demanding his release, together with civic groups, after he was imprisoned. The KHMU strongly urge the Thai government to set free all political prisoners, including brother Somyot, immediately, on the occasion of this award presentation.
Jeon Tae-il (August 26, 1948–November 13, 1970) was a tailor in the Seoul Pyeonghwa Sijang (Seoul Peace Market). He is a legendary labor movement activist who burned himself to death, demanding that employers observe the Labor Standard Law in 1970. The founding of Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) honored his spirit. The democratic union confederation holds the National Workers’ Rally to commemorate Jeon’s spirit every November. Jeon’s mother, Lee So-seon (December 30, 1929–September 3, 2011) devoted herself to the movement for workers’ rights and democracy on her son’s behalf after Jeon died. Ms. Lee has been called the “Mother of Workers