Marching backwardsHuman rights organizations across the nation said they would host assemblies and demonstrations next month without authorization from the police. The move is a protest against the police’s decision not to authorize demonstrations by the Korean Alliance Against the KorUS FTA. But this is where they have things backwards. The police refused to allow demonstrations by the anti-free trade group because they have often resorted to violence after receiving approval for a peaceful assembly. And the police acted for the sake of the public. Under these circumstances, for anyone to threaten unauthorized demonstration is unacceptable.
Last year, Seoul and other metropolitan cities suffered demonstrations by labor unions and other bodies on most weekends, and protesters illegally formed human barricades across roads. Struggling merchants lost business and the public’s discontent grew. The police, who had previously failed to respond with any kind of force, were obliged to ban large-scale demonstrations that could result in violence. It was the right thing to do for the public.
Nobody who believes in democracy wants to stop a peaceful protest, but that is not the issue here. The Democratic Labor Party is largely responsible for the prevalence of illegal demonstrations. The alliance’s latest illegal demonstration, which drove downtown Seoul into chaos on Sunday, was made possible by a political party’s earlier gathering. Things got to a point where Lee Taek-soon, head of the National Police Agency, urged the Democratic Labor Party “to show behavior that befits a political party.” Mr. Lee also said he would consider disallowing the party’s assemblies, if they spill over into the illegal demonstrations of other organizations and cause disruption for the public. We think it is right for him to do so, but the onus is on the party to prevent that in the first place.
In a free and democratic society, everyone has the right of assembly. But all illegal demonstrations that inflict damage on the greater public must be handled in accordance with the law. Gone are the days when people held violent demonstrations just to grab attention, and the Democratic Labor Party and the anti-free trade body must realize that.
The public knows that violent marches are a backward step to a troubled past. The police have said they will respond to unauthorized demonstrations with the force of the law and will consider disallowing the Democratic Labor Party demonstrations. It’s time they started taking action for the good of all.