Candlelight protestors might go free

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Candlelight protestors might go free

With efforts to revise the law banning nighttime demonstrations going nowhere, local prosecutors fear that courts will acquit more than 500 Koreans recently charged for doing just that.

The law now on the books prohibits outdoor public demonstrations from dusk to dawn, but the Constitutional Court last September ruled the law unconstitutional and a violation of freedom. It ordered the government to revise it by June 30, but intense squabbling between the ruling party and opposition has stalled progress.

If the current law isn’t revised by the deadline, the statute automatically expires - and those accused of breaking the law will find themselves not guilty.

More than 500 cases, including some 300 in Seoul, have been put on hold as judges have been watching the passage of the revision bill. Most of the defendants were involved in candlelight protests against the resumption of U.S. beef imports in 2008.

The ruling Grand National Party announced yesterday that it would not push forward a disputed bill revision due to intense resistance by the opposition parties. That means the current law, which prohibits protests from dusk until dawn, will be invalid, and protests will be allowed at any time.

The current laws slap a fine of up to 1 million won ($820) or a jail term of up to a year on a violator.

The GNP proposed a revision that bans demonstrations from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., saying people’s sleep should not be disturbed, but it was opposed by Democratic Party and Labor Party lawmakers.

The legal limbo created by the Constitutional Court’s ruling has left local judges deeply confused. Some judges ruled defendants not guilty, saying they can’t find the defendants guilty if the relevant laws were found unconstitutional, while other judges said the laws were effective until the June 30 deadline.

Prosecutors said a lot of the defendants are charged with other offenses, such as traffic violations, so it is unlikely they will walk out of court unscathed.


By Kang In-shik [hawon@joongang.co.kr]

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