[Viewpoint] Group action must toe the legal line

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[Viewpoint] Group action must toe the legal line

From next year, the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutors’ Office will strictly enforce a zero-tolerance policy to control violent demonstrators and discourage illegal strikes by the union of government employees. At the same time, the government will also file civil suits to win compensation for past illegal activities.

It is only right for the government to take these actions because it is responsible for public safety and maintaining order.

Citizens’ basic rights such as freedom of speech, publication, assembly and association and the freedom to express political opinions and take political actions are only guaranteed when they are exercised lawfully.

These are not unrestricted freedoms that condone threats to the stable lives of citizens and neglect of public authority and law and order. Nevertheless, the government’s move is unexpected. Previously, mass violence against police officers and destruction of public property only resulted in minor punishments. These illegal acts were tolerated in Korean society.

Developed countries with solidly established law and order, like the United States, Britain and Japan, experienced chaotic periods in the course of industrialization due to radical and violent protests. However, they were able to attain stability thanks to principle-oriented law enforcement and public opinion that supported a strict response to illegal activities.

Protest rallies opposing U.S. beef imports, the strike at Ssangyong Motor and the illegal action by the union for government employees all have something in common. Their illegal group actions were driven by fabricated information circulating online and agitation for political purposes. They paralyze legitimate government functions and pose a grave threat to citizens’ peace and security. Moreover, they ruin confidence in and the reputation of Korea in international society and become an obstacle to economic development.

In order to prevent widespread illegal group action, the National Assembly needs to properly revise the law on assembly and demonstration.

Especially, we need to constructively follow the legislative examples of developed countries that strictly punish the carrying of weapons or dangerous tools during demonstrations. Wearing masks to make it difficult to identify protestors is also illegal.

Freedom of expression and public demonstrations should follow the law. To eradicate illegal group actions, we must create an atmosphere that induces a consensus of the majority through liberal discussions. That will allow us to reach a reasonable and positive solution. Moreover, citizens will voluntarily follow social peace and order when legislation and law enforcement protect the poor, the weak and minorities.

The Bush administration in the United States put a lot of energy into reforming social security but it failed because of political opposition and adverse public opinion.

Yet, we have witnessed the mature resolution of discord between the Obama administration, Congress and American citizens, who engaged in discussion, persuasion and agreement. Korean politicians need to learn from this example.

When promoting a policy, the government and the ruling party need to go through a process of ample discussion and persuasion and be patient with the opposition party. If such persuasion is impossible, the government should postpone the policy implementation. Only then can we reinforce the foundation of a mature democratic nation.

Opposition parties also need to acknowledge the leadership of the administration and the ruling party, which came into power through the choice of citizens. The opposition must accept the majority decision so it can contribute to a “culture of affirmation.”

Both the ruling and opposition parties must display solid respect for legal processes when responding to illegal group actions.

*The writer is an attorney of the LOGOS Law LLC.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kweon Oh-yong
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