Martyrs don’t do tear gas

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Martyrs don’t do tear gas

Rep. Kim Sun-dong of the opposition Democratic Labor Party came under livid spotlight by spraying tear gas in the National Assembly chamber on Tuesday to stop the ruling party’s railroading of the free trade deal with the United States. Use of tear gas has been a sensitive issue in this country since pieces of a tear gas grenade killed Lee Han-yeol, a student at Yonsei University during the wave of pro-democracy demonstrations in June 1987. By spraying tear gas in the assembly, Kim endangered his fellow legislators and security guards and seriously undermined the authority of the Assembly. His action amounts, more or less, to terrorism against parliamentary democracy.

But something abnormal is happening in our society.

Kim likens himself to the independence movement martyrs Yoon Bong-gil and An Jung-geun, who risked their lives to kill members of the Japanese imperialist government. He now stands at the forefront of unlicensed antigovernment and anti-FTA demonstrations. Fellow party members and liberal forces regard him as a hero. He is bombarded with tweets praising him. A poll showed as much as 23 percent approved of a pardon of Kim’s action as an inevitable measure to block the unilateral passing of the FTA bill. The Korean legislature has once again made itself a laughing stock to a global audience with tear gas now added to fist fights, martial arts and the legislative use of actual sledgehammers.

Our society has become so immune to impropriety and irrationality that such actions hardly raise controversy and are even justified. The violent clashes with the police during the antigovernment, anti-American rallies protesting American beef imports in 2008 drew similar responses.

Law enforcement authorities are dilly-dallying over prosecuting Kim in fear of aggravating negative public opinion after the ruling party railroaded the FTA bill. No National Assembly authority or Grand National Party official has pressed charges. Conservative civilian organizations are seeking a prosecution investigation of Kim’s action, but it must also be reviewed by the Assembly’s ethics committee. The GNP so far has not taken any action. House speaker Park Hee-tae should be first to take action to restore authority.

The National Assembly’s ethics committee must lead an internal investigation. Lawmakers must come up with a bill to prevent violence in the National Assembly before we experience something beyond tear gas.
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