Rally for quality of lifeSince the law banning nighttime rallies lapsed on July 1, a troublesome set of events has occurred, as expected. On Saturday, fi ve opposition parties and civic groups held a massive rally in Seoul Plaza against the government’s four rivers restoration project. Some of these groups plan to stage candlelight vigils around Cheonggye Stream and other places every night until the end of this month. The number of applications for nighttime demonstrations has already exceeded 3,400 nationwide. In other words, on any one night, there could be more than 100 rallies around the country. In the process, civic groups are competing with one another for prime rally locations, with some groups even holding small defensive demonstrations in order to secure a site before a larger event.
As a result, a conflict between the freedom of association and the public’s quality of life seems inevitable. More worrisome is the possibility that if the number of nighttime rallies increases, the police may have trouble protecting the public because they are too busy trying to keep order among the protesters.
We believe that blame for this chaotic situation should first be cast upon the National Assembly’s dereliction of duty. The Constitutional Court ruled in September that the ban on nighttime demonstrations is in disaccord with the Constitution and ordered the government to amend and clarify an obscure phrase — “from sunset to sunrise” — by the end of June. Regardless, both the ruling and opposition parties turned their heads away from the court’s ultimatum and threw the issue into legal limbo by engaging in political mudslinging.
But that doesn’t mean that people should feel free to stage protests all night at the expense of other people’s quality of life.
Heo Wan-jung, a research professor at Korea University, called the National Assembly a “legislative body that neglected its obligation to improve the law,” a phrase appropriate in legal or common sense terms. At a seminar held at the Constitutional Court last weekend, he even argued that if someone felt their constitutional rights were ignored and she or he suffered a loss due to the National Assembly’s neglect of its duty, the person can file a constitutional appeal or lawsuit against the National Assembly for compensation. The person can then hold the legislative body to account for damages incurred, according to the State Liability Act, Heo says.
There is a social consensus that an appropriate restriction of nighttime demonstrations is needed, considering that they give rise to violence. The public should not be made to endure self-indulgent, boundless protests. We urge our politicians to amend the law before it’s too late.