24/7 construction met with 24/7 resistance on Jeju Island

Construction gate blockade with street art by Jang Joonhu. Photo via savejejunow.org

Construction of the controversial navy base on Jeju Island, South Korea, is accelerating. In the last week, after months of delays due to local protest, a 24/7 operation has begun. Two hundred low-wage Vietnamese laborers are now housed on site, producing 80 3,000-ton concrete caissons that will create the first breakwater and mooring docks. Round-the-clock resistance in Gangjeong village has followed with dozens of people sustaining a blockade at the construction gate, sometimes in pouring rain and at night under the glare of broad banks of bright lighting installed to illuminate the work yard.

The police battalions brought in from the mainland have doubled in size to 500 riot-equipped officers suppressing the nonviolent demonstrators. Every two hours for the last four days, demonstrators are pushed, roughly dragged and carried from the road, then surrounded by multiple lines of police. A few more cement mixers enter the site, police fall back, and the blockade resumes. Sometimes arrests are made and activists have been taken into custody. One man, Catholic Fr. Lee Young-Chan, remains jailed on multiple charges of obstruction of business and obstruction of government affairs following his arrest on October 24. Fr. Lee is affectionately known as Father Cement Mixer for repeatedly climbing atop the essential truckloads when the road is blocked by protests.

Three other men being held on charges related to opposing the navy base were released from Jeju Prison in the past month.

Dr. Song Kang-Ho was released on September 28 after 181 days, just two weeks before he would have served the maximum time in pre-trial detention permitted under Korean law.

Mr. Yoon Choong was released October 24, after serving 44 days in prison. Like nearly half of the Gangjeong’s farmers’ lands, Mr. Yoon’s property had been seized for base construction at a fraction of its value. In a drunken rage last September, he had broken the door glass of one of the few pro-base businesses in town.

Two days later, Mr. Kim Dong-Won was released on bail pending trial. He’d been behind bars since June 30 when he climbed and occupied a dredging crane on a barge engaged in illegal dredging next to one of the endangered soft coral forests along the Gangjeong coast.

On October 19, jailed Jeju resister Mr. Park Suk-Jin asked for a meeting with the warden regarding the treatment of prisoners. His request was denied, and on the following Tuesday, October 23, he began a hunger strike. Authorities moved him into a punishment cell, then a few days later into a single cell as he has requested.  He has ended his hunger strike. In addition to Park Suk-Jin and Fr. Lee, three other men remain in Jeju Prison for resisting the navy base: Mr. Kim Bok-Chul, Rev. Jeong Yeon-Gil, and Mr. Park Seung-Ho. Prison ID numbers and the address for the five men are listed here.

For the latest news on resistance at Jeju, visit savejejunow.org.