On Dec. 5, 2012, volunteers from Park Geun-hye’s campaign for the presidency wear masks with her face at a traditional market in Busan. (Yonhap News)
With a second popular indignation rally scheduled to take place on Dec. 5, many people are looking for new approaches to the gatherings and demonstrations with the understanding that the events need to be peaceful. To this end, they are considering things like placing flowers in vehicle barricades and staging satirical “masked balls.” This is a welcome development. Though the reason past demonstrations have turned violence has mainly to do with the overheated response from police trying to use their barricades to block peaceful marches, it’s still fundamentally right for participants to use peaceful tactics to show their opposition.
At the same time, the tactics from the government have only gotten harsher and more rigid. Police followed up their initial search and seizure operation against the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions - their first in 18 years - with another on Nov. 27 on the group’s Gyeonggi Province office. Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong issued a statement the same day insisting there would be “no illegalities, no compromise.” The administration has also rejected an offer by the Jogye Order of Buddhism’s dialogue committee to mediate for the peace rally.
Now the police are weighing an outright ban on the rally on Dec. 5, citing the violence that occurred at the first one. This would be in clear violation of the Constitution, Article 21 of which expressly bans “licensing” of demonstrations. In principle, anyone should be able to participate in a rally or demonstration so long as they go through the necessary reporting procedures. The Assembly and Demonstration Act does allow the prior banning of “assemblies or demonstrations that clearly pose a direct threat to public peace and order from collective violence, intimidation, damage, or arson,” but even those terms apply only to a bare minimum of cases in which the danger is literally “direct” and “clear.” If we invoke this clause to ban the rally - despite the organizers’ pledges that it will be peaceful and the efforts at mediation by a distinguished religious group - then this really means it’s up to police’s subjective judgment whether or not the people are allowed to hold rallies. If that isn’t a licensing system, what is?
KCTU president Han Sang-kyun admitted on Nov. 27 that it was a “clear violation of positive law” for citizens to tie barricade vehicles with rope and drag them during the first rally. He also went on to say that the reason it happened had to do with the administration’s excessive and violent tactics. The second rally, he pledged, would be peaceful. Now it is time for the administration to adopt a similar attitude: admit that it was wrong to use excessive tactics and engage in dialogue with the organizers so that future assemblies and demonstrations really are peaceful.
When you go on about “improving demonstration culture” on one hand while repeatedly cracking down on the other against people who have said they want to hold peaceful demonstrations, all you’re doing is fostering or inciting violent rallies. Until there are changes to this attitude, the government is basically owning up to the claims here and abroad that its real aim is to quash protests and silence critics.
Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong announces a statement insisting there would be “no illegalities, no compromise” regarding face coverings at public demonstrations, at the Government Complex in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, Nov. 27. (by Lee Jeong-a, staff photographer)
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