[EDITORIALS]Violence begets violencePresident Roh Moo-hyun has apologized to the nation for the deaths of two farmers who had participated in a violent protest in Yeouido, Seoul, against Korea’s rice market opening. The police chief and prime minister had apologized already, and now, with the president’s public mea culpa, the government has issued the highest level of apology for the unfortunate deaths of the farmers.
The president also said the people suffer critical damages when law enforcement powers are abused. He was pointing out that the farmers died due to excessive force being used to suppress the rally.
There is, however, an important point that must not be overlooked. We must think about why the police used excessive force. The farmers’ protest was extremely violent, thus it is impossible to say that the police are solely responsible for the incident. The farmers attacked the police using a wide range of arms, which cannot be accepted under any circumstances. The president also said “if there had been no violent demonstration with iron pipes brandished, the unfortunate incident would not have happened.” It is fortunate that the president’s opinion is the same as public sentiment toward the violent rally.
In contrast, the National Human Rights Commission was unfair. It asked the prosecution to look into the police’s suppression of the protest, while making no mention of the farmers’ methods of protest. It is appropriate to investigate human rights abuses for the farmers, but the commission should also have investigated why the police had to use such excessive force to dismiss the rally.
At the time, 218 riot police were injured and three police buses were burned out. Police injured during law enforcement activities deserve human rights protection as well.
Following the advice of the commission, the chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency has tendered his resignation.
It is now time to investigate the illegal acts of the farmers thoroughly. Arresting nine farmers and questioning 47 without detention is not enough to prevent a recurrence of violent demonstrations.
The president’s apology must not result in restraining the police’s efforts to maintain public order during protests. If the police allow violent rallies for fear of being held accountable for any unfortunate aftermath, society’s stability will be shaken. Law enforcement authorities must act sternly to correct Korea’s violent protest culture, which goes against the development of the nation’s democracy, until a culture of peaceful demonstrations is established in the country.