Protesters aren’t liable for damagesLeaders of the massive candle-carrying protests against U.S. beef imports in 2008 do not have to compensate the government for the damage incurred during the demonstrations, a Seoul court ruled yesterday.
The government in July 2005 requested some 517 million won ($487,726) in compensation for medical fees for injured police, lost police equipment and damage to buses and cars from civic groups and their leaders after they organized candlelight vigils against U.S. beef imports between May and June 2008.
The protesters believed U.S. beef posed a risk of infecting people with mad cow disease.
The Seoul Central District Court ruled yesterday that 14 leaders of the demonstrations and three civic groups, including the People’s Conference Against Mad Cow Disease and the Korea Alliance for Progressive Movement, were not liable for the damages.
“The relationship between the defendants who planned and led the demonstrations and the participants of the demonstrations [who vandalized and injured police] could not be confirmed,” said the court in its decision. It said organizers did not have any responsibility to prevent damage.
The court said that even if the civic groups led illegal demonstrations, “they were not responsible for all of the illegal actions of the participants.”
It said the loss of police equipment and damage to cars and buses happened not only during rallies but afterward as crowds went home and police returned to their units. Likewise, some injuries to police occurred at that time, not necessarily while suppressing protesters.
The government had demanded 247 million won for medical treatment of some 300 police officers and conscripted policeman, and 270 million won for damage to buses and lost communication devices and other equipment used to contain the protests.
Nationwide protests erupted after a decision in April 2008 by the Lee Myung-bak administration to resume importing U.S. beef amid mad cow disease hysteria.
The candlelight vigils turned violent and included police firing water cannons at protesters.
An estimated 932,000 people rallied on nearly 2,400 occasions to protest the government’s decision to resume the beef imports, according to official Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office reports. Some 680,000 riot police were mobilized, of whom 100 were injured.
In 2011, Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) apologized for an April 2008 report that contained false information about mad cow disease, fueling the public’s uproar over the beef imports.
The case has been drawn out over five years. The government said it was gathering evidence.
The courts have not always ruled in favor of protesters. Civilians were held liable for damages after protests against the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement in South Chungcheong in 2006 caused the collapse of a wall of the South Chungcheong Provincial Government complex.
BY SARAH KIM, PARK MIN-JE [firstname.lastname@example.org]